corner graphic   Hi,    
ver. 2.0.19.12.15
Finding the new version too difficult to understand? Go to classic.studylight.org/

Bible Commentaries

The Biblical Illustrator
Psalms 78

 

 

Verse 1

Psalms 78:1

Give ear, O My people, to My law; incline your ears to the words of My mouth.

The obligation to obey God’s law

I. It is the law of your nature. The foundation of morality is laid deep in human nature; its principles result from the constitution of our frame; and its authority will be supreme, while there is a mind to discern, or a heart to feel, or a conscience to judge.

II. It is the law of heaven.

III. It is the law of society. Public depravity paves the way for public ruin.

IV. It is the Law of happiness. What does it forbid? Desires, passions, and vices, from which for our own sakes we should abstain, though there was no such prohibition. It forbids the gratification of desires which would lead us to ruin; the commission of vices which waken remorse, and deliver us up to the tormentors. What does the law of the Lord command? What is lovely, and pure, and praiseworthy; what tends to make men peaceable, gentle, humane, merciful, benevolent, and happy. (John Rogan.)


Verses 1-72

Verse 2

Psalms 78:2

I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old.

The nature and design of parabolic teaching

The word here translated parable did not probably convey to the mind of the psalmist the signification which we ordinarily attach to it. It might mean nothing more than a sublime, figurative, and sententious manner of stating facts or imparting moral lessons; or nothing more than a poem in which this style should prevail.

I. The nature of parabolic teaching. It is that which discerns most deeply and employs most judiciously these manifold analogies and comparisons, more or less partaking of what we understand by a continued metaphor. And he who has the greatest moral perfection will assuredly be the best adapted to the discernment of the lessons they imply. The Lord Jesus Christ, then, must be, from His very character and offices, best acquainted with this method of instruction. He who made all things and without whom not anything was made that was made, He is not only the Word, but the Wisdom of God--pronouncing His dark sayings and forming His secret things in the progress of the world and the Church, so that Egypt is still the type of bondage, and Israel’s journey through the wilderness to the land of promise one long parable, as Asaph saw darkly, of God’s dealings with His saints in the latter day. Every hour we behold Him illustrating the nature of this varying and marvellous instruction; aiding us to its definition; supplying the materials of which its innumerable comparisons are formed.

II. The adaptation of parabolic teaching to the condition of mankind upon earth. The human mind is so constituted, as to be unable to comprehend essences, properly speaking. The principles of causation are a sealed book to us. The progress of language, the manner in which we give names to objects, are of themselves sufficient proofs of this view. In everything pertaining to our moral conduct and choice, we follow another kind of evidence, and are influenced by another kind of reasoning. We determine what shall be our preference, not because we know absolutely the best course, but because our minds remark that what we are about to do bears a likeness to some other event or circumstance, which on another occasion, we have observed, came to pass. The rule and measure of our hopes and fears concerning the success of our pursuits; our expectation that others will act so and so under such circumstances; and our judgment that such actions proceed from such principles--all these rely upon our having observed the like to what we hope, fear, expect, judge; we say, upon our having observed the like, either with respect to others or ourselves. Our very life, then, is guided by a sort of parable, and hence the adaptation of its formal development to our circumstances and condition. But that propriety is illustrated not only by the connection of reasoning on probabilities, or likelihoods, or parallel courses of events, with the teaching by parables. We prove it also by the shortness of human life. A moral question comes before us; we make a parable to ourselves; we compare the subject on which we want to learn with another, where the decision and propriety is obvious. We do this involuntarily, because our time is so short; it is now or never. Here is another ground of arguing the adaptation of parabolical teaching to the necessities of mankind. We have said, what must the case be with the masses of which the world is constituted! Engaged as they are from morning to night in obtaining a scant supply for the wants of their bodies, they have no time or opportunity to rise, were the rising possible, above the range of this kind of information. But to them it seems strangely forcible. It strikes a chord in their understanding and heart. Metaphors are ever popular with the multitude. Children (and the mass of mankind are but children of a larger growth) love to be instructed by a similitude. It casts them on a new field of discovery; it opens their mind to a fresh series of glorious thoughts and feelings. And is it presumptuous to suppose that all this was part of ancient and venerable design on the part of our Lord Jesus Christ the Creator, and by creating the Teacher, as well as the Redeemer of our species? (T. Jackson, M. A.)


Verse 4

Psalms 78:4

We will not hide them from their children.

Children

I. The interesting objects of our solicitude mentioned. Consider--

1. The love which welcomes them.

2. The evils which surround them.

3. The possibilities which await them.

II. The sacred duties which we owe to them.

1. They are weak; we must protect them (Genesis 33:1-20.).

2. They are helpless; we must provide for them.

3. They are ignorant; we must instruct them.

III. The object which we hope shall be realized.

1. The knowledge of truth shall be perpetuated.

2. Our children will put their hope in God.

3. They shall be better than their fathers. (The Study.)

The knowledge of national benefits and deliverances transmitted to the rising generation

I. Point out a few of those things which we have heard and known, or which our fathers have told us, and which we, with the psalmist, may style “The praises of the Lord, and His strength, and the wonderful works that He hath done.”

II. Recommend and enforce the resolution in my text. The great Gad may justly expect that we acquaint ourselves with His ways and works; that we endeavour to trace Him in the natural, providential, and civil world, and in the world of grace; and that we treasure up in our hearts each signal deliverance He hath wrought. But a genuine disciple of Jesus, and a child of God, will neither wish to live nor to die unto himself. What we have known of the wonderful works of God in favour of our fathers, of ourselves, or of ages to come, we should transmit to the rising generation. I am apprehensive that one cause of the languishing state of public spirit, and of pious zeal, in this age, is the want of knowledge. Had the minds of persons in the present day been early and deeply impressed with the conduct of God to this highly favoured country, the privileges they enjoy would be more dear and important in their esteem, and patriotism would not be that empty boast which we have too much reason to apprehend it now is. With the knowledge of those “things we have heard, and known, and which our fathers have told us,” transmit, as far as possible, the things themselves. On our part let nothing be left untried, that they who are soon to fill our places in civil and religious life, and that their descendants, even to the world’s last period, may stand forth, under God, the guardians of each important and sacred right, and approve themselves the unshaken friends of their country, of Jesus, and of the Gospel. (N. Hill.)

The transmission of Scriptural truth to posterity

The text presents four grand arguments why we should zealously devote ourselves to this duty.

I. The peculiar character of scriptural truth. Consider it--

1. As a revelation of God.

2. As a law of duty.

3. As a history of God’s conduct.

II. The manner in which we have been put into its possession. As we have received the knowledge of God and the way of happiness from our fathers, who showed us by their lips and their lives the way of happiness, we are bound, by every consideration of gratitude, to give to others what has been so freely given to us.

III. The divine arrangements as to its transmission. Fathers are commanded to make known the commands and the character of Gad to their children. Various powerful reasons might be assigned for this infinitely wise arrangement. The young come into our world with an awfully strong bias to evil, and it is unspeakably important to check the workings of their depravity by presenting the most powerful considerations which tend to the accomplishment of such an end. Nor must it be forgotten here, that, as immortal creatures, the character of man is usually formed in youth for eternity.

IV. The great results which it is intended to accomplish. Every individual who receives the knowledge of God, in the love of it, becomes a moral sun, diffusing light and warmth around him, the glorious effects of which shall be felt through all the changes of time, and in eternity itself. (J. Belcher.)

The true method by which generation helps generation

I. True religious knowledge is a thing imparted to man. It is that “which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.” It is not inbred nor discovered. Without denying that man has a capacity to discover God as the Creator, all history shows that he has never done so; and as to His redeeming capacity, that, in the nature of the case, transcends all human conceptions. As sinners, this is the knowledge of God we require, and it involves the former. And we have it, not by intuition or discovery, but by impartation. It has been transmitted to us through many generations.

1. They have handed it down to us by inspired documents.

2. They have handed it down to us by their own teaching.

II. True religious knowledge is imparted to us, not to monopolize, but to transmit (Psalms 78:5-8). The transmittory arrangement implies--

1. That the children of every generation have a capacity for receiving this knowledge. There is no danger of teaching religion boo soon.

2. That the children of every generation will require this knowledge. Coming generations may not require our philosophies, poetries, and governments; they may out-grow our sciences, and despise our civilization, but they will require our religion. Though they may not require our lamps, they will need our sun.

3. The eternal harmony of all God’s operations. The Eternal does not contradict Himself. The first Divine act on earth’s theatre will harmonize with the last. The whole will form one great anthem filling eternity with music.

III. True religious knowledge is to be thus transmitted in order to elevate posterity.

1. The grand result aimed at is threefold--

2. It is coming slowly but surely. Humanity is rising, and every true thought arid virtuous act helps it on. (Homilist.)


Verses 5-8

Psalms 78:5-8

For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel . . . that they should make them known to their children.

The parents’ prerogative: how is it used

Dr. Adam Clarke reminds us that there are no less than five generations specified in these verses. God has blessed no age for its own sake only. There is a chain of Divine purposes in the history of God’s dealings with men, one link of which joins another in continuous progression until all, in their united and related capacity, present one completed purpose which is all-embracing and Godlike. This truth was repeatedly emphasized in the earliest days of God’s special dealings with the Jewish people. Moreover, the duty of handing down to succeeding generations the truth which they had received was specially enforced in the case of parents, the natural guardians of the rising race, and, therefore, according to the law of Moses, the first special custodians of Divine truth. It is important to notice how tenaciously the Jewish people clung to the title “the Children of Israel,” and how frequently in later days, when the title “Children of Israel” had fallen into comparative disuse, they nevertheless clung to the memory of their “fathers,” especially the three great primitive fathers of the race--Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. All this shows what a large place the family and its associations and relationships occupied in the life of the nation. There can be no doubt that it is God’s will that the parent should be the first teacher and guide of the family, and if this is neglected by the parent no one else can fully compensate for that neglect. Hence the repeated emphasis placed in the Old Testament on the duties of parents. I say “parents” because the law demanded filial honour alike to “father and mother.” Now, in the household of the Jew there were certain religious duties to be performed by the mother. For instance, the lighting of the Sabbath lamp, as also the preparation of the Sabbath meal, and the fastening of the scroll of parchment upon the door-post, was done, not by the father, but the mother. Thus Jewish children from their earliest age learnt to associate certain religious acts commemorative of great facts in the history of God’s dealings with the nation with some of the mother’s duties. The child would ask, “Mother, what are you doing?” She would reply, “Kindling the Sabbath lamp,” or “Preparing the Sabbath meal,” or “Fastening the parchment upon the door-post so that all may know we love and serve the Lord God of Israel.” She would also tell the child the spiritual significance of all these customs. Thus the mother was a mighty power in Israel in forming the character, and determining the destiny, of the rising race. Moreover, the mother was the privileged teacher of the child during the earliest and most impressionable period of his life, and, oh, how wonderfully the Jewish mother availed herself of this opportunity! We find a striking instance of the mother’s influence, even in a home, far away from any synagogue, where, moreover, the father was a heathen man, in Paul’s allusion to Timothy, who from a child had known the Holy Scriptures. Now, parents, will you relinquish that vantage ground upon which God has placed you? Will you give it up instead of availing yourself of your prerogative to the fully Are you willing to send your children forth to the world without the advantage of your unique influence? Is it your will that, though you have the power placed in your hands so to influence your children that they shall find it exceptionally difficult to forget you and your teaching, they shall yet go forth into this fashionable, giddy, sinful world without the advantage of any such training as God calls upon you to give them, and all this because you idly trust that somehow or other some self-denying teacher may compensate for your neglect? Oh, parents, to have a conscience void of offence, and our hands clean so that not a spot of their blood shall remain upon us! (D. Davies.)

Bible education, and its safest guarantee

I. The real ground of the duty of transmitting knowledge from man to man. It is not a work of choice, to be done or not done, to be done partially or done heartily and entirely, at our option and after our judgment; but a positive duty laid down and imposed upon us by the express command of the Most High.

II. What kind of knowledge God has commanded to be imparted.

1. God has specially honoured and particularly prescribed religious knowledge. Indeed, what can be more inconsistent or unwise, than to educate man for time, add to leave his soul unfitted, unstored, untaught for the measureless eternity through which it will endure?

2. God has not excluded other instruction.

III. The time which God particularly specifies for imparting instruction (Deuteronomy 11:18-19; Isaiah 28:9, etc.). (C. Hebert, M. A.)

Children to be instructed in the Scriptures

I. The peculiar benefit which the Lord conferred upon Israel. “He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel.” The law and the testimony may now be said to belong to us, and to belong to us in a far more eminent sense than they ever did to Israel. The canon of Scripture is now completed. We have not only Moses and the prophets, but also the evangelists and the apostles. We are favoured with all the revelations which in different ages of the world it has pleased God to communicate to His Church, and particularly with the glorious gospel of His grace.

II. The important duty which God required Israel to discharge in virtue of the benefit conferred upon them. Having established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, “He commanded the fathers,” etc. In proportion as the glory of the Gospel excels that of the law, are our obligations to see that the minds of our children are well imbued with its truths. And is not a knowledge of those truths absolutely necessary to their well-being and happiness? Can they be saved without it? Must they not perish without it? What is the body to the soul? Or what are the concerns of time compared with those of eternity? Let us weigh them in the balances of the sanctuary, end we shall find them to be lighter than vanity. Shall these, then, engross our cares in reference to our children, while we overlook their best and highest interests? (D. Bees.)


Verse 7-8

Psalms 78:7-8

That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep His commandments.

On the deceitfulness of the heart, in disregarding providential dispensations in general

I. Show what is implied in a diligent observation of providential dispensations.

1. A close investigation of the various steps of Providence towards us.

2. Attention to the temper of our hearts, to the dictates of conscience, and to the motions of the Holy Spirit, which concur with these dispensations.

3. An accurate trial of the meaning of all dispensations by the infallible standard of revelation.

4. An earnest desire of perceiving God’s design as of a loving nature.

5. A faithful recording of these dispensations.

II. Illustrate some of the deceits practised by the heart, in order to prevent a diligent observation of providential dispensations.

1. It entices us to indifference about practical religion.

2. It represents them as uncertain.

3. It represents many events as trifling and unworthy of attention.

4. It opposes this exercise, as if it unavoidably tended to enthusiasm.

5. It is represented as a great bondage to ourselves.

6. The heart may perhaps plead that this course is neglected by many who are as good Christians as we.

III. Advert to the designs of the deceitful heart in dissuading us from observing Divine dispensations.

1. It wishes to deprive God of the glory resulting from this exercise.

2. By this inexcusable negligence the delusive heart designs to deprive believers of much real comfort. There are two channels in which the Lord communicates consolation to His people. These are His Word and Providence. But we lose much of our comfort if we keep these separate.

IV. Suggest some motives for encouraging Christians to this exercise.

1. The command of God (Deuteronomy 4:9).

2. God has pledged His faithfulness for the success of this work.

3. The example of the saints.

4. The consideration of God’s constant and tender remembrance of you may encourage you to this exercise.

5. The recollection of former mercies will afford you an argument with God for renewed instances of His love.

V. Concluding cautions.

1. Beware of making Providence the rule of your conduct. This would be to put it in the place of the world, which is not merely the principal, but the only rule.

2. Judge not of providential dispensations by their outward aspect.

3. In all your observation of Divine providence, still remember that the ways of God are unsearchable. His judgments are a great deep.

4. Beware of forming a rash judgment with respect to God’s designs. “He that believeth h shall not make haste.”

5. Be especially on your guard against harsh and uncharitable judgment. (J. Jamieson, M. A.)

Memory, hope and effort

My text tells us how past, present and future--memory, hope and effort,--may be ennobled and blessed. In brief, it is by associating them all with God. It is as the field of His working that our past is best remembered. It is on Him that our hopes may most wisely be set. It is keeping His commandments which is the consecration of the present.

I. Associate God with memory by thankful remembrance. We can see His presence more clearly when we look back over a long connected stretch of days, and when the excitement of feeling the agony or rapture have passed, than we could whilst they were hot, and life was all hurry and bustle.

II. Live in the future by hope in Him. Hope owes to Memory the pigments with which it paints, the canvas on which it paints, and the objects which it portrays there. But in all our earthly hopes there is a feeling of uncertainty which brings alarm as well as expectation. And he whose forward vision runs only along the low levels of earth, and is fed only by experience and remembrance, will never be able to say, “I hope with certitude and I know that my hope shall be fulfilled.” But they whose hopes are set on God have a certain hope, a sufficient one, and one that fills all the future.

III. Live in the present by strenuous obedience. After all, memory and hope are meant to fit us for work in the flying moment. Both should impel us to this keeping of the commandments of God; for both yield motives which should incline us thereto. A past full of blessing demands the sacrifice of loving hearts and of earnest hands. A future so fair, so far, so certain, so sovereign; and a hope that grasps it, and brings some of its sweet fragrance into the else scentless air of the poor present, ought to impel to service, vigorous and continual. Both should yield motives; both should impel to such service. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)


Verses 9-17

Psalms 78:9-17

The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.

God in human history

I. A people is a community that are most favoured with privileges are oftentimes the most sinful. Ephraim was not only one of the largest, but one of the most favoured of the Jewish tribes. He descended from Joseph, the highly favoured of God. He received the benediction from the lips of Jacob; and yet this tribe was so prominent in the rebellion that it stands as the representative of the ten rebellious tribes. Two of its sins are referred to here.

1. Cowardice in battle (Psalms 78:9). They had weapons for battle, but they had not the patriotic bravery to use them.

2. Disobedience to God (Psalms 78:10).

II. God works specially in human history for man’s advantage (Psalms 78:11-12).

III. His special workings on behalf of man, whilst they should deter from sin, frequently fail of this purpose (Psalms 78:17). “When God,” says an old author on this verse, “began thus to bless them, they began to affront Him.” As sin sometimes takes occasion by the commandment, so at other times it takes occasion by the deliverance, to become more exceedingly sinful. (Homilist.)

Cowards in battle

I. The historical advantages of these men. “Children of Ephraim.”

1. This gave them the advantage of having had brave ancestors. Joshua and Samuel were Ephraimites--noble sires; this a great honour; a correspondingly great responsibility. Blood is much; grace is more.

2. This gave them the advantages of a central location. After settlement in Canaan, Ephraim, numerous and powerful, occupied the central portion of the land. In its territory were Shiloh, with the tabernacle and ark; Shechem, with its holy and tender associations.

3. This gave them prominence and power. But they were false to their great mission. They were leaders, and leaders in evil. “Being armed and carrying bows.”

II. The military condition of the people.

1. They were defensively armed. So is the Christian.

2. They were offensively equipped.

3. They were skilful in the use of their weapons. We must know how to use this one offensive weapon.

III. The cowardly conduct of these men. They “turned back in the day of battle.”

1. They turned back. Weapons worthless if courage be wanting; courage is wanting if God be absent.

2. They did this in the day of battle. They betrayed their trust.

3. They brought disastrous consequences upon themselves. Merited doom. Sanctuary transferred. God’s rejection secured. We need bravery. Dare to be like Joseph, Moses, Daniel, Paul, Luther, Bunyan. Alas I that in these evil days--days of spiritual declension--there is so little genuine heroism in the Church. (R. S. McArthur, D. D.)

Turning back in the day of battle

I. What these men did. They turned their backs when the time for fighting came, and fled. This, I am sorry to say, is not an unusual thing among professing Christians. Some do this at the first appearance of difficulty. Timorous and Mistrust come running down tim hill crying, “The lions! the lions!” and thus may a pilgrim turn back towards the City of Destruction. Others are somewhat braver. During the first thrust they stand like martyrs and behave like heroes, but very soon, when the armour gets a little battered, and the fine plume on their helmet a little stained, they turn back in the day of battle. Some professors bear the fight a little longer. They are not to be laughed out Of their religion; they can stand the jeers of their old companions. “Cowards,” say they, “are those who flee; but we shall never do this.” But by and by the skirmishers have done their work, and it comes to a hand-to-hand fight; the struggle begins to be somewhat more arduous, and now shall we see what metal they are made of. We have seen grey-headed apostates as well as juvenile ones.

II. When they did it. “In the day of battle.”

1. At the only time when they were of any sort of use. If the Christian soldier never fights, of what good is he at all? Take off his colours, play “The Rogues’ March,” and turn him out of the barracks! And this is what will come to some professors who turn back in the day of battle! Their regimentals will be torn off, and they will be excluded from the Church of God because they turned back in the day of trial and at the time when they were needed.

2. They turned their backs, too, like fools, in the day when victory was to be won. The soldier wants to distinguish himself; he wants to rise out of the ranks; he wants to be promoted. He hardly expects an opportunity of doing this in time of peace; but the officer rises when in time of war he leads a successful charge. And so it is with the Christian soldier. I make no advance while I am not fighting. I cannot win if I am not warring.

3. They turned back, when turning back involved the most disastrous defeat. The ark of God was taken. “Ichabod,” the enemy cried, for the glory was departed from Israel, because the children of Ephraim turned back in the day of battle. And so, dear friends, unless God gives you preserving grace to stand fast to the end, do you not see that you are turning back to--what? To perdition.

III. Who they were that turned back.

1. Men of a noble parentage. “Children of Ephraim.”

2. They were armed, and had proper weapons, weapons which they knew how to use, and good weapons for that period of warfare. And as Christians, what weapons have we? Here is this “Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God.” Here is a quiver, filled with innumerable arrows, and God has put into our hands the bow of prayer, by which we may shoot them, drawing that bow by the arm of faith.

3. Another translation seems to show that these Ephraimites were very skilful in the use of the bow, and yet they turned back. Oh! may God grant that none of us who have preached to others, and preached to others with fluency and zeal, may ever have our own weapons turned against US.

IV. Why did they do it?

1. “They kept not the covenant.” Oh! that great covenant, “ordered in all things and sure,” when you can fall back upon that, how it strengthens you!

2. “They refused to walk in His law.” When we get a proud heart we very soon get beaten, for with the face of a lion, but the heart of a deer, such an one is afraid of the world. If I am willing to do what God tells me, as He tells me, when He tells me, and because He tells me, I shall not turn back in the day of battle.

3. They also seemed to have turned back because they had bad memories. “They forgot His works, and the wonders that He had showed them.” Some of you have had very wonderful manifestations of the Lord’s kindness, and if you forget all these I should not wonder if you should prove to be a mere professor and turn back.

V. What was the result of them turning back?

1. Their father mourned over them (1 Chronicles 7:22). What a lamentation it brings into the Christian Church when a professor falls!

2. Owing to their turning back, the enemy remained. It is our turning back in the day of battle that leaves Canaan unconquered for our Lord.

3. But, worse than this, the ark itself was actually taken. Those of you who are armed and carry bows, men of learning, men who understand the Scriptures, I do pray you, do not turn back just now, for just now seems to be a time when the ark of God will be taken. It can never really be so, but still we must mind that it be not the tendency of our actions. We must all of us hold fast the truth now. If there is a man who has got a truth, let him draw his bow and shoot his arrows now, and not turn back in the day of battle. Now for your arrows! Now for your arrows! The more our foes shall conspire against Christ, the more do you make war against them. Give them double for their double; reward them as they reward you. Spare no arrows against Babylon. (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Turning back in battle

True religion brings with it a courageous heart, and Dr. South has well and quaintly said, that “since Christ has made a Christian course a warfare, of all men living a coward is the most unfit to make a Christian.” And yet it is mournful to think that, of the great army of Christians who enrol themselves under the banner of the Cross, in Baptism and Confirmation, and who wear the uniform and carry the sword of Christian soldiers, so many resemble the ill-starred men of Ephraim, who, “being armed, and carrying bows, turned themselves back in the day of battle!” Courage can only be kept alive by zealous action. We can readily imagine a gallant regiment riding into the very valley of death at a dashing gallop, but it would be simply absurd to picture them crawling at a snail’s pace towards the expectant foe, coolly calculating the chances of disastrous defeat. As Christians, we profess to be engaged in a warfare against something, even the enemies of our salvation, the world, the flesh, and the devil--three most formidable and deadly foes. The office for the Lord’s Supper opens also with a prayer “for the whole state of Christ’s Church militant”--the Church which is engaged in open and determined war. We can all well afford to do good service for Christ and His kingdom, since the end draweth near. Here is the battlefield, and the land of the sword and the spear. There, already is sight to the eye of faith, in the triumphal procession of the conquerors, and the land of the wreath and the crown. (J. N. Norton.)

Our proneness to forget past mercies

We can see His presence more clearly when we look back over a long connected stretch of days, and when the excitement of feeling the agony or rapture have passed, than we could whilst they were hot, and life was all hurry and bustle. The men on the deck of a ship see the beauty of the city that they have left behind better than when they were stumbling through its narrow streets. And though the view from the far-off waters of the receding houses may be an illusion, our view of the past, if we see God brooding over it all and working in it all, is no illusion. The meannesses are hidden, the narrow places are invisible, all the pain and suffering is quieted, and we are able to behold more truly than when we were in the midst of it the bearing, the purpose, and the blessedness alike of our sorrows and of our joys. Some of us are like people who, when they get better of their sicknesses, grudge the doctor’s bill. We forget the mercies as soon as they are past, because we only enjoyed the sensuous sweetness of them while it tickled our palate; and forgot, in the enjoyment of them, of whose love it was that they spoke to us. Sorrows and joys, bring them all in your thanksgivings, and “forget not the works of God.” (A. Maclaren, D. D.)


Verse 14

Psalms 78:14

In the daytime also He led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.

Day and night leading

Did some man imagine this? I thank him. It was worth being born to imagine this conception of God. It is so tender, so fatherlike; it is charged to the full with inspiration of the best kind; it makes all things feel securer; it brings to the soul contributions from all quarters, contributions that increase its wealth, that improve its quality, that inspire its courage,

1. A startling statement that people were led in the daytime. Surely there is no need for leadership in the season of light. We have reason, experience, natural sagacity, human society, a thousand other ministries all operating in the daytime: what need have we for divinity, supernaturalness, providence--that higher rule which is called Divine? A very proper question, admitting of a very satisfactory reply. It is in the daytime men go most astray. Very few people go astray at night. There is a natural fear, which becomes a natural caution and restriction of liberty, and men say they had better wait until the light comes before they go out on any adventure. How tempting is the daylight I How well it would have been for some men had there been no daylight! How much there is in that daylight to excite the spirit of adventure! Yet, properly used, it is the very blessing of God, the great opportunity of life--so nearly do death and life lie together. God led His people in the daytime with a cloud. It required a poet to think of that.

2. Even the night need not shut out the light of God: “all the night” He led them “with a light of fire.” There must be night. That is strange, but true. There must be darkness. Why cannot we always have holiday, festival, noontide? If we close the Bible, we do not alter the facts of life. Better keep the Bible at hand as the deepest and wisest interpreter of all the mystery of existence. The Bible comes into the night of our experience, and says, I will set it with stars all over, so that there shall not be room to put another diamond in all the coronal; and as for this cold night, I will light a fire--not a crackling flame, but a glowing fire--and the darkness shall make it the more precious. How Providence adapts its communications to circumstances. A cloud would have been no use at night; a fire would have been wholly out of keeping with the poetry of daylight. Providence knows what is best. The fitness of things is a religious argument. There is a shaping Hand about. What is my proof of the existence of God? My own lifetime, that is a tract I never bought, and cannot sell, and the more I read it the more I pray. Providence brings with it not only a light at night-time, but “a light of fire.” It might have been another light, but it would not have fitted all the occasion with so exquisite an adaptation. The night is cold, so the light is of fire. Other light may glare and dazzle, gleam upon the eyes so as to hurt the vision, but oh! there are two comforts in the household fire--the warmth and the light; not a light that could be seen afar, but a light just adapted to the next step or two--and so warm, it makes the house. And the fire is the crown of the winter. It is the very centre and joy of our Christmas festivity. However far you stray away in the snow it is the fire in the house that is getting ready for you the very delight of your enjoyment. There may be more barbarism than civilization, there may be more wickedness than goodness, there may be more desert than garden; and it is not for us to explain why these things should be or how they came to be; the counsel is in heaven, and we are living from without and from above, and by and by we shall be called in to hear how it all came to pass, and how the very darkness was made into a temple, how the very wilderness was needful for the culture of our life, and how our necessity was one of our chief riches. How regularly the day comes, how regularly the night; how regularly, therefore, the cloud and the pillar of glowing, illuminating fire. (J. Parker, D. D.)

God’s unceasing care

“All the night!” how much is often conveyed in that word “all”: to have lain awake all night without one snatch of sleep; to have tossed to and fro, all night, wondering how long the hours are; these are some of the experiences of those who are familiar with this little word “all” in connection with “night.” The soul has its seasons of protracted trial, when it speaks of “all” night. Long-continued temptations, or depressions, or struggles, make it talk of “all night.” And now, that which so cheers us is the thought that there is no night too long for God. He that keepeth Israel shall neither slumber nor sleep; whatever may be the length of our night the Lord is unwearied through it all. Man’s watching is exemplified by the disciples in Gethsemane; God’s by the pillar of fire. “Could ye not watch one hour?” is the record of the one; “all the night” is the record of the other. Is it not a blessed thought that, however much we may weary our fellow-watchers, so that one by one they drop off, by reason of the weariness of the flesh, we never weary out our God! And as God watches with us if we be wakeful, so also He watches over us if we be at rest. We never can enjoy any real repose of soul unless it be in the consciousness that God is near us, above us, manifesting Himself for us. A watchful and a watching God is the believer’s warrant for repose; we repose beneath, when we are sure that He watches above. And God’s watch is an undivided one--“all the night.” He does not take us up, where another has laid us down. We have not to do with a new watcher, who has to learn from his predecessor all the peculiarities of our condition; where we are sore; how we must be handled; what are our peculiarities; what our special needs; it is the one watcher all through. And hence may God’s people be assured of true tenderness; and consummate skill; and an anticipation of all their needs; our Divine Watcher has been too long with us not to know all we want. (P. B. Power, M. A.)


Verse 15-16

Psalms 78:15-16

He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.

Streams from the rock

I. Consider thy rock as a representation of Christ.

1. What does a rock remind us of?

2. We pass from the image to its condition; we mean with regard to its being smitten. And how did the Lord Jesus become the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey Him? Not only by the dignity of His nature, though this was necessary; not only by the innocence of His life, though this was necessary; and not only by the perfection of His righteousness, but by suffering and by death: “He was wounded for our transgressions,” etc.

3. It was not only smitten, but smitten by Moses--a type of the law. “The Lord laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” “He redeemed us from the curse of the law,” etc.

4. The last article of conformity is the result, for from this rock, as Smitten by Moses, streams flowed. “He brought streams also out of the rock.”

II. To survey some of the fine streams which flowed from it.

1. The promises. These are “exceeding great and precious”--“exceeding great,” because of their contents; exceeding “precious” to the Christian, because of the estimation they are held in by him. All these “are Yea and Amen in Christ Jesus.”

2. Pardoning mercy. His blood “cleanseth from all sin.”

3. Sanctifying grace. “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature.”

4. Spiritual consolation. “It is I, be not afraid.”

5. Future blessedness. “Fulness of joy.” “Eye hath not seen,” etc.

III. The quality of these streams.

1. They were marvellous and unlikely. Who ever saw a stream of water rising out of a flinty rock? How much more supernatural is the stream of redemption!

2. They were gratuitous. “He did not deal with them according to their sine, nor reward them after their iniquity,” but furnished them with those supplies they needed. And how was it with us? for they were an exact counterpart of us. It was “not by works of righteousness that we have done” that He saved us, “but by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost”; thus showing the “exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness towards us by Christ Jesus.”

3. They were copious (verse16). So in regard to the waters of life, there is enough and to spare; enough for you, enough for others, enough for all. “Ho, every one that thirsteth; come ye to the waters.”

4. They were constant, at least enough so to furnish an exact representation of the waters of salvation, for you have heard how far the reality has the pre-eminence. This rock in its streams followed them partially, and only for a while; and the people moved on in another direction, leaving these streams, and then they thirsted again. But it is true, perfectly true, without any exception, that this rock, or the streams thereof, follow Christians in all their travels in the wilderness, and it will never leave them, nor forsake them. When they look forward, therefore, they may say with holy confidence, “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life”; and the meanest of them feels assured that he shall dwell for ever in God’s house above. (W. Jay.)


Verse 17

Psalms 78:17

And they sinned yet more against Him by provoking the Most High in the wilderness.

Sin multiplying with mercies

The more copiously the showers of mercies fell upon the Jew in the wilderness, the more abounding his sins.

I. This is a lamentably common character. Seeds of sin innumerable are imbedded in every depraved heart; and the sunbeams and showers of mercy often develop them into harvests, whose ripened grains fall down into the soul to be multiplied again, etc.

II. This is a monstrously unnatural character. The eternal design and the essential tendency of Divine goodness are to quicken all intelligent spirits into gratitude and virtue, to waken them into hallelujahs. “The goodness of God should lead to repentance.” Man is somehow denaturalized, dehumanized; he pursues a course hostile to the constitution of things.

III. This is a tremendously guilty character. It is “treasuring up wrath against the day of wrath.” (Homilist.)


Verses 18-22

Psalms 78:18-22

And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.

The conduct of God towards the world, and the world’s conduct to Him

I. God’s dispensations towards depraved man.

1. Wonderful mercies (Psalms 78:12-15; Psalms 78:24-25; Psalms 78:27; Psalms 78:44, etc.). There are Divine deliverances, guidances, protections, and rich and varied supplies of goodness in the life of every individual man, as well as in every family, community, country, age. His mercy is in every breath of air, in every ray of light, in every pulsation of health, in every particle of food, in every pleasant sensation, in every happy thought, in every uplifting hope.

2. Disciplinary chastisements (Psalms 78:21; Psalms 78:34; Psalms 78:44-51; Psalms 78:61, etc.) ever mingle with all His mercies towards man--physical pain, social bereavement, secular trials, intellectual anxieties.

II. The conduct of depraved man towards God.

1. They insulted Him (Psalms 78:18).

2. They slandered Him (Psalms 78:19).

3. They doubted His truthfulness (Psalms 78:22).

4. They hypocritically praised Him (Psalms 78:36-37). Alas! how prevalent is this sin. What a contrast between the weakly conduct of men in relation to God and the words of adoration and praise which they address to Him on Sunday in the devotional services of their Church!

5. They apostatized from Him (Psalms 78:41-42).

6. They persisted in their rebellious conduct like their ancestors (Psalms 78:56-57).

III. The retributive principle in human history (Psalms 78:29-30; Psalms 78:61-64, etc.).

1. It often works through material nature. Furious beasts, poisonous reptiles, pestiferous atmospheres, withering blights, devastating Storms, etc., the retributive principle of the Divine government is ever acting through these.

2. It works always for beneficent purposes.

3. Its greatest prodigies often fail in converting souls (Psalms 78:17; Psalms 78:32). Sin cannot be crushed, nor virtue generated by coercion. Blocks of ice defy the face of the mightiest storms that ever shook the earth; but before the gentle sunbeam they give way and run into sparkling streams. (Homilist.)


Verse 19

Psalms 78:19

Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?

A table in the wilderness

Here is--

I. A base ingratitude. He had done so, and they had participated in the banquet.

II. A miserable scepticism. Can He do it? He who peopled immensity with innumerable worlds and systems, etc. What an insane and imbecile scepticism is this! not worth argument.

III. A. living rebellion. The question shows that rebellion was a rampant spirit within them. (Homilist.)

The resources of God

I. The nature and import of the question. It is not the language of faith, but of doubt, distrust and unbelief.

II. The resources of God.

1. As the God of Nature. “The heavens declare the glory of God,” etc.

2. As the God of providence. To the Christian believer this doctrine is an unmixed source of Divine consolation. He believes that the same providing mind which bestowed “the unspeakable gift “ is engaged to supply his daily bread.

3. As the God of grace--enlightening, preventing, convincing, justifying, sanctifying and comforting and strengthening grace.

III. A God infinite in His resources, as He is able, is also willing to communicate His blessings to His needy creatures. He is a sun of brightness and a sea of fulness.

IV. There is as much wisdom, mercy and goodness in what He withholds as in what He gives. The state of probation allotted to the Christian is of a mixed character. The brightest clay has the pillar of a cloud, and the darkest night a pillar of fire. The unmixed wine of the kingdom is reserved for the kingdom. The withheld mercies of our God are frequently blessings in disguise, so disguised that only the eye of faith can see through it. (W. B. Browne.)


Verse 20

Psalms 78:20

Can He give bread also?
can He provide flesh for His people?

The cry of unbelief and presumption

I. The cry of unbelief. The question presupposes a negative; they practically said, “We do not believe that He can do any more than He has done.” The whole nation missed the meaning of history, and thus lacked all stimulus to hope and confidence. How often that is the case! It is most important that our children should learn history, and learn it as those grand inspired historians of the Old Testament wrote it, and as the father of each Jewish family taught it. They should learn not to see a human Colossus, astride all time, but to see God in every great development of history, in every change and every transition, and thus working out His purposes in all. What we need is simplicity of trust in God. God delivers just at a time when man cannot deliver himself. When, therefore, you are brought to trouble, look in the one direction where there is deliverance. You will never find God to fail you; and when once you have been delivered, do not forget it.

II. The cry of presumption. Why should they dictate to God what He was to do? Why should they stake the honour of God upon the mere coincidence whether He thought the same as they did or not?--that is, whether He considered that the best thing that could happen to them was that they should have an abundant supply of bread and meat, and taste of the flavour of the old flesh-pots of Egypt for which they longed? In connection with this, read Exodus 13:17-18. Oh, how many of us are like them! We seem to presume upon what God has already done. I have heard many a man say before now, “I was born in a good family, and here are poor people, who were born in cots, getting on, while of late I have had nothing but disappointments and losses. I do not see why the Lord should permit all this.” What would you have the Lord do? Is there any special reason why you should be free from all trouble? Why, some men have trouble from their cradles to the grave. God never made a special arrangement with your parents that you should go through your life without any anxiety, or sorrow, or disappointment. If He had, I am afraid it would have been the greatest curse you could have had in your life. God never sends sorrow to any of us more than we need. It is not only wrong, but also foolish, to dictate to God what He shall do with us. Leave it to Him. If many prayers we uttered in bygone days were but written up to-day on a tablet, we should each say, “Ah, me, I must have been mad when I uttered that prayer. If God had granted me that, it would have been my ruin. He did not grant it, and I was disappointed; but now I see that was the greatest mercy He has ever shown me.” (D. Davies.)

“Can He provide flesh for His people?”

This is an instance of man’s attitude towards God in the presence of miracles. Miracles have either marked distinct starting-points in the history of revelation, or have been given as Divine adaptations to the peculiar needs of the people to whom they were granted. They have been necessary as special proofs, but not as continuous manifestations.

1. This is an instance of the misuse man can make of a glorious history. The first part of the verse seems to prepare us for something sublime. Could a people who could relate such a history, who could record such facts of Divine intervention as these, finish up with anything but a hallelujah of praise? And yet these people who had a great history, and a history in which God’s power ever flashed forth in deeds of exceptional love, missed the meaning of all, were caught by the splendour, and only sufficiently caught by the splendour to yearn for other manifestations still more startling, and more gratifying to their animal passions. The love and patience of God revealed in the miraculous provisions of the past were lost upon them.

2. Thus, too, this is an instance of the misuse men can make of miracles. This was not peculiar to the ancient people. Look at the New Testament. There is one striking instance in John 11:37. Thus these words, in common with the words of our text, reveal another fact.

3. That miracles thus misused by men not only failed to satisfy, or to ennoble their hearts, but also that they made men more exacting in their demands and more shameless in their requests.

4. Thus God, in dealing with men, has given miracles to convince them of His power only as the occasion demanded, and as the nature of the revelation which He gave required. He has never given miracles of which there has not been supreme need. There has been a Divine economy in miracles throughout the ages. It was necessary that they should cease, or they would cease to be miracles. God now works in another way, not less Divine or even less mysterious. The Kingdom of God cometh not with observation. (D. Davies.)

Divine sufficiency ample for all our needs

God is a spring, this day and tomorrow. The God of Isaac is not like Isaac, that had one blessing and no more. A believer’s harvest for present mercies is his seedtime for more. God’s mercies when full-blown seed again and come up thicker. Can the creature want more than the everlasting fountain can supply? What an irrational way of arguing was that! “He smote the rock that the waters gushed out; can He give bread also?” As if He that filled their cup could not spread their table; as if He who had a hidden cellar for their drink had not a secret and as full a cupboard for their meat. (S. Charnock.)


Verse 21-22

Psalms 78:21-22

Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth . . . Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in His salvation.

Mistrust that destroys

There are morbid growths in the human frame which our doctors divide into two groups--benign and malignant; and the distinction often comes to mean the distinction between life and death. In dealing with the unbelief which crosses our pathway and even creeps into our homes, it is most important that we should observe the same principle of minute and discriminating classification, and beware of confusing things that entirely differ. Some phases of scepticism are chiefly intellectual; morbid, weakening, and hurtful all the same: phases which begin to assume a moral complexion when a man parades them as a beggar parades his sores, and it may be frets and keeps them open when they tend to heal. And on the other hand there are scepticisms which are moral in their beginnings and which tend to destroy the most vital fibres of conscience and character.

1. Unbelief is malignant when it is a product of the flesh and its tyrannous appetites. Of that we have an instructive example in the text. Our fleshly passions always tend to make us distrustful of the spiritual and the unseen, and this drift in the passions sometimes warps the reason and deflects the moral sense, and has done so for generations, so that we inherit a maimed aptitude for faith. It is only by the subjugation of the flesh that we become susceptible of the faith that God seeks from us. Men may be mistrustful malcontents because they do not find themselves in the kind of world upon which they have set their foolish desire. The atheist is occasionally a person who cannot get all the beer he wants. Now and again men gnash their teeth upon religious belief because Divine law puts restraint upon their lusts and upholds the strict sanctities of marriage and the home. The ideal world that would convince them of the Maker’s benevolence would be a world fluttering with hosts of unclaimed hours.

2. Another sign of malignant unbelief is that it thwarts men in working out the appointed problems of life and salvation. We find the scientific mind smouldering with resentment because unscientific definitions of the supernatural have been current in religious circles, just as if such accidents were of the essence of faith. The mind trained to methods of historical research is exasperated to contempt by the uncritical methods of pietists who do not grasp the human part in revelation, and the Bible is despised because of the narrowness and illiteracy of some good Christians who honour it. The man needs our richest pity over whom, for any of these reasons, the Bible has lost its authority. But the obligations of faith are first of all those which present themselves in the pathway of our common duty, and when those obligations are met, we shall probably find the further claim the Bible makes upon our faith easier of fulfilment

3. That unbelief is malignant which impeaches a God who is in the very act of proving His covenant and friendship with us and leading us forth into freedom, privilege, blessedness. Our vaunted doubt is an affront to a living Benefactor, a stab at the warm love that is ever brooding over us, a gross filial impiety; for the signs that our lives are under covenant guidance are as indisputable as those vouchsafed to Israel of old, however much they may differ in form. If you flatter yourself that it is only the God of an empty tradition you disparage in your modes of unbelief, you eliminate the most noteworthy facts from your experience of life, and judge with disastrous prejudice. God is nearer to us than all others, directing our steps to right ends, moulding our characters by wise chastisement, and clinging tenaciously to the faint promise of better things that may yet be in us; and it is all this which puts the culminating blackness upon our unbelief.

4. Unbelief is malignant when the most memorable experiences of our history furnish sufficient warrant for the faith we are required to exercise. Such was the case with Israel in the wilderness. Such unbelief as they avowed might have been less unseemly before the first plague alighted upon Egypt, and the first wonder had been wrought for their salvation. God never asks from men an arbitrary and impossible faith, and it will always be found that He has prepared us by the lessons of our previous history for the next heroic act of trust that is required. In God’s order for our education in this cardinal virtue, the intricate, the complex, the formidable do not come first, although misguided men do not always respect God’s order. The duties of faith are graded just as carefully as a child’s scales in music or his first exercises in reading. The infant who can scarcely climb up-stairs is not set to scale Mount Ararat. God’s providence puts the demands of faith in a rational series, and we must rise in harmony with our personal experience of His grace and power. High destinies are in store for you, and you must needs believe in God’s continuous salvation through every step of your pilgrimage, and let Him shape the plan of it in His own way. Why should your whims and weaknesses and insistences forsooth be sacred in His sight? Be content to have them set aside. When you believe in God’s salvation as it persists through your life and breaks out into floods of ever-growing illumination, you will find it easier to believe in the history of salvation preserved for us in the sacred book; and mounting those ascents of faith, made ready for your steps, you shall find that nothing is impossible to him that believeth. (T. G. Selby.)

Israel’s sin and danger

I. The sin charged.

1. They believed not in Jehovah as contrasted with idol gods, or as the only living and true God.

2. They believed not in His great salvation to be achieved by the promised seed.

II. The consequences.

1. Because men believe not in God, they are left to become the dupes of delusion and error.

2. Because they trust not God, they remain slaves of sin.

3. Because they believe not in God, they taste not joy, peace, and true felicity.

4. Because they believe not in God, they are subject to fear of death, and despair of eternal happiness.

5. They wilt be subject to the wrath of God, and will be outcasts from Him for ever.

III. The reasons which should induce us to believe in God.

1. The essential immutability of His nature.

2. The infallible certainty of His Word, and the preparation He has made for our salvation.

3. The impossibility of finding salvation in any other way.

IV. The means to be employed.

1. Contemplation of our own weakness and inefficiency.

2. Study of His character and faithfulness, His Word and grace, His gospel, etc.

3. Diligent attendance upon hearing, for “faith cometh by hearing.”

4. Fervent prayer for His Divine assistance. (The Evangslist.)


Verse 24

Psalms 78:24

And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of Heaven.

The manna in the wilderness

That this miraculous provision was designed to be an emblem of the Lord Jesus Christ, and of those precious blessings of which He is the Author, is evident from His own declaration “I am the living Bread,” etc.

1. The manna in the wilderness was the bread which the Lord gave the Israelites to save them from perishing. Even so Christ crucified is the heavenly bread which God hath given to “save our souls alive”; to preserve them from that eternal decay, which, through sin, would otherwise have been their portion, and to nourish them to eternal life.

2. The manna descended freely, as the gift of God; and so the blessings of salvation through Christ are offered freely in the Gospel. Desert is no more required in the one case than in the other. “By grace ye are saved,” etc. The Gospel salvation is no less freely offered than it has been provided. It is a gift for which no price is demanded, and which looks for nothing in its recipient but want and misery. Though unspeakably precious, it is placed within the reach of all; and if we do but ask in faith, it will be made ours. Those, therefore, who refuse to partake of it are entirely without excuse.

3. The manna was suitable alike to all; and so the blessings of Christ’s purchase are precisely such as are suited to the circumstances of His people. In their natural condition they are hungering and thirsting after true happiness; but nothing in the wide range of the universe can ever satisfy the cravings of their immortal spirits. But that satisfaction which all created objects are unable to yield is to be found in Jesus Christ--“He that cometh to Me,” He declared, “shall never hunger; and he that believeth on Me shall never thirst.” How diversified soever their circumstances, they find in Him that spiritual food which is fitted to satisfy all the wants of their souls. Are they guilty? “In Him they have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace.” Are they estranged from God? They are “made accepted in the Beloved.” Do they need deliverance from the power of sin? He “gave Himself for us that He might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify us unto Himself, a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” Are they doomed to die, and moulder away into dust? He “is the resurrection and the life,” and has promised to “redeem them from death, and ransom them from the power of the grave.”

4. It was necessary for the Israelites to gather the manna, though freely given of God; and it is required of us that we believe to the saving of our souls. Nor is the faith by which we obtain a personal interest in Christ’s salvation a mere transient act. As the Israelites gathered the manna daily, so we must be daily feeding upon the heavenly Bread offered to us in the Gospel. Our whole life must be a life of faith upon the Son of God. And blessed be God! we may always have the grace that we need.

5. As the manna sustained the Israelites from day to day, so are they supported and strengthened who live by faith upon the Son of God. By believing on Him who is the living Bread that cometh down from heaven, they dwell in Him, and He dwells in them. He that eateth this Bread shall live for ever.

6. The appointed mode of distributing the manna among the Israelites is not without its significance. Some gathered more, and others less, according to their activity, but all received a plentiful supply. So believers receive liberally out of the “exceeding abundant grace” of Christ. “It pleased the Father that in Him should all fulness dwell”; and if we only come to Him, we shall receive “out of His fulness grace for grace,” abundance of every kind of heavenly and spiritual blessings.

7. A portion of the manna was laid up in the golden vessels of the tabernacle, where it remained for ages without suffering corruption. Even so, Jesus Christ liveth for ever in the heavenly sanctuary, as the “hidden manna,” which He promises for the support and nourishment of His conflicting and overcoming people. And as He is represented in Scripture as “dwelling in their hearts by faith, the hope of glory,” should not the purity of the golden vessels, in which the manna was hidden, teach us to cleanse our hearts from all sin and corruption, that they may be fit receptacles for Jesus Christ our heavenly manna? (P. Grant.)

The manna a type of Christ

We observe, first, that the food was supernatural. The Israelites were sustained by nourishment furnished them immediately from heaven. And did not this represent that the food of the soul was to be holy and good, and that the bread of life, whereof all men must eat who would not everlastingly die, must descend from heaven and fall around the camp?--that the person of Christ should not be produced in the ordinary course of nature, and that His birth should not be as the birth of other men? The manna, in the next place, sufficed for the whole multitude; there was enough for all, and it was suited to all, so that the old and young, the rich and the poor, partook of the same food and were equally benefited. Jesus Christ hath given Himself for the ransom of the world, and there is not an individual in the wide family of man for whom provision has not been made in the rich supplies of the Gospel. It may be further observed that the manna, before it was eaten, was ground in a mill, or broken in a mortar; so ere Christ could become the food of the world He was bruised and put to grief, became a curse and was pressed down by the weight of God’s wrath against sin. There is something so remarkable in the direction that the manna should be used on the day it was gathered. In spiritual things God supplies our wants as they occur; He does not give strength till He gives the trial, “As is thy day, so shall thy strength be.” If I may use such an expression, we have no stock in hand, but when the necessity arises we must apply afresh to the Saviour; yet practically we often endeavour to set aside that law. We distress ourselves with thinking that if such and such troubles overtake us we can never endure them, thus calculating on to-day’s strength for to-morrow’s trials; or because we have been diligent in prayer, and feel we have obtained a communication of grace, we are apt to suppose with the psalmist, “that our mountain stands strong and can never be moved.” All this is but laying by till to-morrow the manna of to-day: and white experience teaches us that we cannot carry with us the provision, but must have recourse in every want to the Saviour, we learn the lesson which is typically taught in the inability of the Israelites to secure out of what God gave them on one day sustenance for the following. There is, however, another striking particular in which the manna was typical. It fell only when the Israelites were in the wilderness, ceasing as soon as they crossed Jordan and reached the promised land. And is not the type to be also traced in the food being given throughout the journey, but withheld on its completion? We shall have no more need of sacraments when once we are admitted into the kingdom of heaven. It is one of the finest descriptions given us by the evangelist of the new Jerusalem, “I saw no temple therein; for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are the temple of it.”(H. Melvill, B. D.)


Verse 25

Psalms 78:25

Man did eat angels’ food.

Angels’ food

I. There are in the universe higher order of intelligent creatures than man, “Angels.” The proofs, the nature, the functions, the varieties of their existence abound in the Scriptures.

II. This higher order of intelligences require food. No creatures, however exalted, can be self-subsisting, i.e. can live of themselves or from themselves; they must appropriate something from without.

III. Of this food man to some extent is a partaker. Revelations of truth, beauty, God, are the food of souls in all worlds, and this food is universal. (Homilist)

Angels’ food

We soon tell by our appearance what food we have been eating. You cannot hide the bill of fare. The face is a tell-tale. The more the sensualist eats the greater a sensualist he appears to be. He feeds the flesh. He gets coarser every day; what little music there was in his voice is all dead and gone; he has choked it with the food of beasts. Once there was a little child in him, well spoken of, thought to be the germ of a fine man; but that child-angel is dead. Every mouthful of meat the man now takes makes him more beast-like. Say not that it is of no consequence what a man eats. It is of vital consequence. The mystery, however, is this, that even the best food may be turned into evil nutriment, according to the nature of the man who partakes of it. The lion grows as a lion the more he eats; though it be of the daintiest food it all becomes lion. So with us bodily, intellectually, spiritually: we tell what our food is. Under what circumstances may men be said to cat angels’ food, corn of heaven, bread sent down from God? When earth cannot satisfy him any longer, the good food is beginning to tell upon him. Growing in spirituality is not a metaphysical process; it is concrete, intelligible, patent to the observation; it is not a growth in mere sentiment, it is not an enrichment of the nature in mere foam of ecstasy and rapture: it is a larger outlook, a firmer grasp of things eternal, a clearer view of distant things; it is a growth in preparation, in the estimate of relative values, in sympathy with God. Growing so, the whole world changes; its duties become light, its burdens become comparatively easy, its wealth a handful of dust that may be thrown up and caught again and laid down with a conjurer’s ease. Growth in spirituality means larger intercourse with God, keener perception of religious essences and moral affinities. Growth in spirituality means a throwing-off of mere burdensomeness and ceremony and ritual; a forsaking of the fleshpots of Egypt, and a yearning for the society of angels and spirits, blessed and immortal. We can now do better than eat angels’ food, a larger feast has been prepared for us--we can eat the body and drink the blood of Christ. Faith takes the bread, and turns it into the flesh of Christ; faith takes the emblematic wine, and makes it sacrificial blood. Lord, increase our faith! (J. Parker, D. D.)

He sent them meat to the full--

The blessing of harvest

View this verse as applicable to all time and all generations of men; for, just as surely as God fed Israel in the wilderness with manna, so surely is He feeding the whole human race to-day by a miracle not less wonderful.

I. In what sense the statement of the text is true, as applied to all men. Look at the variety of the food God gives us. It is not merely the one food sent directly from above, but we can use a hundred kinds of food, so we cannot comment upon the poor character of the products of the earth. The courses of Nature bring round the seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, and point the Christian back to the God who lies behind them; and he who has the heritage of the Christian has a fountain of gratitude in his soul, because he recognizes that these come from above, for they tell the man who believes and trusts in God that these things are but another sign of that eternal love which has watched over us from infancy, and cares for us all the years of our life.

II. In what sense the statement appears not to be true. How is it that in a world in which there appears to be plenty, or at least in which there is the possibility of plenty, there should be a vast number in every town and city kept pinched and bare? I believe, in many instances, because of their own mismanagement and misconduct. Idleness will clothe a man with rags. It is one of the wise provisions of God’s providence that the earth surrenders her products only to those who work. There is also another explanation. Intemperance is the cause of a vast deal of the want that lies around us. Again, God has never said He will give a successive continuance of rich seasons, and commerce in its whole history has never gone straight on. It has always gone by leaps and falls, and there have been times of scarceness and plenty. But God means every prudent man to lay by in times of success and fulness for a time of scarcity, and I think it is nothing less than sacrilegious for men to blame God for want and poverty if they allow times of fulness to pass without laying by for a time of need. There are, however, some causes outside of a man’s or woman’s own control which lead to poverty and something approaching want. For instance, too many men rush into one trade, possibly because they think it a prosperous one. The result is, that the trade is overstocked, and there is not sufficient work for every one, and a great deal of pain and scarcity often follows, until matters right themselves--and they don’t right themselves in a year. Or, again, the greed and cruelty of some may act as a pressure on those who are weak and unable to defend themselves, and because of this injustice and greed of gain they are not able even to make their bread. Or, again, bad economic laws, such as our Corn Laws that Cobden and Bright did so much to abolish, may raise the price of God’s grain to a fictitious value. There is another cause of poverty and want that is perhaps more directly traceable to God Himself, and that is famine. God’s universe is spiritual, and the powers that conquer in it must be Spiritual, and famine itself is, I believe, one of the methods by which God seeks to work out one of the spiritual purposes of the universe. See, for instance, how famine may bring a nation back to simpler and truer modes of life. See how famine disciplines men by bringing out generosity in them, making them go to the help of other nations. I believe that, too, may be the explanation of the fact that there is poverty among us. Does not God seek to lead us, by poverty, to think of that bread which perisheth not? (D. Woodside, B. D.)


Verse 30-31

Psalms 78:30-31

They were not estranged from their lust.

Dissatisfaction with plenty

God gave them plenty, and they ate “and were filled.” He gave them what they sought, flesh; feathered birds came in abundance. Notwithstanding, they were not satisfied, “were not estranged from their lust”; they had still a craving for something more. Here is dissatisfaction with plenty.

I. This is a very prevalent experience. Men in plenty are everywhere in dissatisfaction. Where there is

II. This is a very suggestive experience. It implies--

1. Something bad that is existing. Conflicting passions, compunctive consciences, moral forebodings within, prevent the possibility of satisfaction.

2. Something good that is lacking. What is the deep hunger of the soul? God. (Homilist.)

But while their meat was yet in their mouths, the wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them.

Kibroth Hattaavah

Fleshly lust not only “wars against” but kills men.

I. Slays physically. An inordinate gratification of animal appetites saps the constitution and brings the body to a premature grave.

II. Slays intellectually. It slays the elasticity, the freedom, the vigour of the intellect. How often, in the case of the gourmand and the voluptuary, does the brain run into fat, and the whole intellect into greasy mud.

III. Slays morally. It slays--

1. Purity of love.

2. Tenderness of conscience.

3. Force of moral purpose. (Homilist.)


Verse 32

Psalms 78:32

For all this they sinned still

Sinning still

1.
God’s revelation of His power, goodness, love and grace to the sinners of our day, in the completed canon of the Holy Scriptures, infinitely transcends anything made to ancient Israel. And yet, in the noonday light of that full and august revelation, they sin still and remain stout in their rebellion.

2. God incarnate in humanity, dying on the cross, and rising from the dead, with all their attending marvels, is the most stupendous event in human or in angelic history; and yet in full sight of the cress, and of eighteen centuries of redeeming grace and triumph, the sinners of this generation scoff and revile.

3. The dispensation of the Spirit, the ministry of the Word, the Sabbath and other Christian institutions, are powerful factors in God’s plan of redeeming agencies; and yet, under the full force of these mighty Divine agencies, the sinners of this favoured day go on to sin and harden their hearts in iniquity.

4. The discipline of Divine providence has been tried again and again upon these rebellions, unrepentant souls; and still they sin on and wax worse and worse. Mercies do not soften their hearts, and judgments do not deter them. (Homiletic Review.)

What God does to keep men from sinning

God does a great deal to arrest the sinner and bring him to repentance. All His dispensations and dealings propose the sinner’s repentance and salvation, until that period when his Spirit, which He says shall not strive always with man, ceases to strive with him (Hosea 4:17).

1. He proclaims His own infinite abhorrence of sin. And will you persist in the love and practice of that which He abhors; is it not reason enough why you should hate and eschew it, that He hates it in its most plausible form, and in its mildest degree?

2. In the exercise of His sovereign authority He positively and pointedly forbids it; and dare you do what God forbids, knowing, too, that He forbids it? Fear you not Him who can not only kill the body, but destroy both body and soul in hell?

3. He has annexed to the commission of sin a penalty, deep as hell, enduring as eternity, inexhaustible as infinitude. He has declared His inflexible determination to inflict that penalty without abatement. He can do it, for all power is His. He will do it, for there is no change in Him; “hath He said, and shall He not do it?”

4. He has ,not only threatened, but begun to execute His threatenings. The weight of His indignation long suspended, has fallen on many and buried them in the bottomless pit. Man’s life here below is made up of vanity and labour because of sin.

5. But He has adopted a different set of measures; measures inviting, attracting, winning, melting; measures of mercy. He would draw by cords of love; He would overcome by methods of kindness. He declares His reluctance to punish. He proclaims His willingness to forgive. (W. Nevins, D. D.)


Verses 34-37

Psalms 78:34-37

When He slew them, then they sought Him: and they returned and inquired early after God.

Israel’s hypocritical repentance

I. The acts of repentance which they performed.

1. Seeking God.

2. Returning.

3. Inquiring.

4. Remembering (Psalms 78:35).

5. Renewing their covenant with God (Psalms 78:37).

II. The defects of their repentance.

1. It was untimely; a fore-slowed, and delayed repentance: that is implied in this word, “when”; not till such a time; then, not till then.

2. It was enforced repentance, not ingenuous and voluntarily undertaken; it was extorted by plagues. They repented when they were under the rod; nay, under the sword.

3. It was an unsound repentance; not true and sincere, but feigned and acted only: it was a flattering and lying repentance.

4. It was a momentary, transitory, unsettled, unconstant repentance, not firm and lasting. And these four are usually linked together, one draws on the other. These four twists make up Esay’s cart-rope of sin. What, then, is wanting? The main of all is, that the heart must be changed. A true convert, hath an inward principle of repentance planted into him; grace is a second nature, and works constantly, as Nature doth; but an hypocrite in his actions of reformation and repentance is moved not by an inward principle of God, but by some outward motive. When that ceases his conversion fails. The motions of piety in a good Christian are like natural motions; the motions of an hypocrite are as artificial motions. The motions of the sun and the motions of a clock keep time alike; and for a time, we will say, the clock goes as true as the sun. Aye, but here’s the difference, the one moves out of an inward principle naturally; the other, the clock, is moved by an outward principle; the weight and plummet makes it go; and when that is down the clock stands still. Or, as in waters, a natural stream flows always, it is fed with a spring; but a sudden land-flood, though it runs strongly for a while, yet it will dry up; it hath no spring or fountain to feed it. (Bishop Browning:)


Verse 36

Psalms 78:36

Nevertheless they did flatter Him with their mouth.

Flattering God

I. Here is a world-wide enormity.

1. It is rampant in heathendom. Men “flatter” their gods.

2. It is prevalent in Christendom. Looking at the moral character of England, for example, who can doubt that the vast majorities of all Churches “flatter” God by the use of the hymns they sing and the prayers they repeat?

II. Here is a monstrous absurdity. Poor man is so vain that he likes flattery, and is deceived by it. But to use it to Omniscience is the height of pre-posity. He knows what is in man. He “abhors the sacrifice where not the heart is found.”

III. Here is a moral abomination. What an insult to Omniscience! (Homilist.)


Verse 38

Psalms 78:38

But He, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not.

All good rewarded

The whole Book of Judges may be said to be a commentary on these words, for it is a record of successive instances of idolatry and wickedness into which the people fell, of Divine judgments which in consequence overtook them, of partial and temporary repentance produced by those judgments, and of relapses into sin when the judgments were withdrawn. The people are said, in our text, to have “flattered God with their mouth,” and “lied unto Him with their tongues.” There was no sincerity in their repentance, for “their heart was not right with Him.” And nevertheless, the repentance, hollow and transient as it was, had its effect. Moved by their distress and their cry, God “many a time turned His anger away, and did not stir up all His wrath.” Now, so far as the Israelites themselves were concerned, there is nothing in this dealing of God which is inconsistent with His character and government. If not spiritually excellent, and therefore not likely to have been recompensed with spiritual blessings, the humiliation of the Israelites had a natural or moral excellence; and, though it could do nothing towards securing a reward hereafter, it might do something like the humiliation of the Ninevites towards procuring a respite from a threatened visitation. We have no right to suppose that the Ninevites when preached to by Jonah, any more than the Israelites referred to in the text, repented in such a sense that they finally separated themselves from idols and joined themselves to the worship of the one true God. But they recognized in a very striking manner the supremacy of that Being who had rescued Jonah front the deep, and sent him among them with a prediction of woe; and, though their cry may have been wrung from them by the fear of punishment, yet was that cry as fine a witness as ever went up from this sinful creation to the awfulness and resistlessness of its Maker. And, seeing that we live beneath a retributive economy, we might almost affirm it a maxim in the Divine dealings with men, that they leave nothing of good without reward and recompense from God. You will remember that our Lord, when denouncing the hypocrisy of those who prayed and gave alms that they might be seen of men, says, “Verily, they have their reward.” There seems in this something more than a declaration that what they were in search of was the praise of men; it is rather a declaration that it was this praise on which they had fixed their desires, and that God permitted them to gain it, because outwardly, at least, they did Him reverence. It is the fixed end and decree of God’s government to reward every man according to his works, and therefore may He award temporary advantages to those who yield Him some temporary obedience. The greatest share of public approbation, and the most desirable portion in this world, certainly appear to be reserved for those who are signal in the duties and warm in the charities of life. And if this be true, how are we to explain it but by declaring that God is not unmindful of the least thing which may seem to be done in obedience to His will; and that, since the men who are merely earnest in curbing their passions and zealous in benefiting others are to have no future recompense, He resolves to reward them with a large measure of temporal good, and thus to allow nothing to be overlooked by His retributive government? Just as there are actions which God punishes, so are there also actions which God rewards in this life; and the reward will be more conspicuous, because the man who receives it is not one who will be accepted at the judgment. Tremble ye who are men of virtue but not of piety, whom the world is applauding, and upon whom fortune, as it is called, is continually smiling. We put no slight upon your virtues; we do not refuse to admit your integrity, your honour, your warm-heartedness, your liberality; nay, we will net even say that these virtues are without worth in God’s sight, and will not receive a recompense at God’s hands; rather we say unto you, “Verily ye have your reward.” You read in the Book of Psalms of men who have their portion in this life. Oh! think with yourselves whether this may not be your case. Is it not too possible, that whilst what is naturally excellent obtains for you a measure of happiness here, the want of what is spiritually excellent may cause you to be consigned to misery hereafter? You live beneath a retributive government; you shall not have to say you do well for nothing; but the retributions of good may last only for a few years, and then the retributions of evil will crowd upon you in eternity. But, on the other hand, though it may be indirectly that there is encouragement in the text for the contrite in heart, the true disciple of Christ may draw comfort from the ease of the Israelites. If God would not leave the show and semblance of contrition without a recompense, will He be unmindful of real penitences If “many a time turned He His anger away “from those who” did but flatter Him with their mouths, and fled unto Him with their tongues,” has He nothing in store for those who are humble in spirit and who come to Him with the sacrifice of a broken heart? (H. Melvill, B. D.)

The wondrous compassion and forbearance of God

The Israelites sinned in the face of abounding mercy. Their providences were special and peculiar. For them God clave the sea and rent the heavens. Angels’ food dropped daily round their tents, and the rocks ran with living streams. God rebuked kings for their sakes. The ancients said that Venus never looked so fair as when she sat beside Pluto. I suppose that Pluto never seemed so swarthy as when contrasted with the white-armed goddess. Sin looks its blackest when set against the lovingkindness and tender mercy of a long-suffering God. Yet even such enormities as black ingratitude and rank rebellion were “forgiven hitherto.” Here is the record--is it not wonderful? “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.” (Thomas Spurgeon.)


Verse 39

Psalms 78:39

For He remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.

The frailty of human nature

I. The frailty of human nature impressively described. Two terms are used--

1. “Flesh”; not granite, iron, or even oak, but a sentient, weak, constantly-dissolving organism.

2. “Wind.”

II. The frailty of human nature Divinely remembered. This being so--

1. He will not require from us more than we are able to render.

2. He will not lay upon us more than we are able to endure. (Homilist.)


Verse 41

Psalms 78:41

Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel

Limiting God

I.
We limit the Holy One of Israel by dictating to him. Shall mortal dare to dictate to his Creator? Shall it be possible that man shall lay down his commands, and expect the King of heaven to pay homage to his arrogance? Will a mortal impiously say, “Not Thy will but mine be done”?

1. O heir of heaven, be ashamed, and be confounded, while I remind thee that thou hast dared to dictate to God! How often have we in our prayers not simply wrestled with God for a blessing--for that was allowable--but we have imperiously demanded it. Christ will have nothing to do with dictatorial prayers, He will not be a partaker with us in the sin of limiting the Holy One of Israel. Oftentimes, too, I think, we dictate to God with regard to the measure of our blessing. We ask the Lord that we might grow in the enjoyment of His presence, instead of that He gives us to see the hidden depravity of our heart. The blessing comes to us, but it is in another shape from what we expected. We go again to our knees, and we complain of God that He has not answered us. You must leave the measuring of your mercies with Him who measures the rain and weighs the clouds of heaven. Beggars must not be choosers, and especially they must not be choosers when they have to deal with infinite wisdom and sovereignty. And yet further, I fear that we have often dictated to God with regard to the time. We pray again and again, and at last we begin to faint. And why is this? Simply because that in our hearts we have been setting a date and a time to God.

2. I will address myself now to those who cannot call themselves the children of God, but who lately have been stirred up to seek salvation. There are many of you who are not hardened and careless now. Sinner, what hast thou been doing, while thou hast Said, “I will restrain prayer because God has not as yet answered me”? Hast thou not been stipulating with God as to the day when He shall save thee? Suppose it is written in the book of God’s decree, “I will save that man and give him peace after he has prayed seven years,” would that be hard upon thee? Is not the blessing of Divine mercy worth waiting for?

II. We limit the Holy One of Israel by distrust.

1. Children of God, purchased by blood and regenerated by the Spirit, you are guilty here; for by your distrust and fear you have often limited the Holy One of Israel, and have said in effect, that His ear is heavy that it cannot hear, and that His arm is shortened that it cannot save. In your trials you have done this. You have looked upon your troubles, you have seen them roll like mountain waves; you have hearkened to your fears, and they have howled in your ears like tempestuous winds, and you have said, “My hark is but a feeble one, and it will soon be shipwrecked. It is true that God has said that through tempests and teasings He will bring me to my desired haven. But alas! such a state as this was never contemplated in His promise; I shall sink at last and never see His face with joy.” What hast thou done, fearful one? O thou of little faith, dost thou know what sin thou hast committed? Thou hast judged the omnipotence of God to be finite. Thou hast said that thy troubles are greater than His power, that thy woes are more terrible than His might. I say retract that thought; drown it and thou shalt not be drowned thyself. Give it to the winds, and rest thou assured that out of all thy troubles He will surely bring thee, and in thy deepest distress He will not forsake thee.

2. And now I turn to the poor troubled heart, and although I accuse of sin, yet I doubt not the Spirit shall bear witness with the conscience, and leading to Christ, shall this morning deliver from its galling yoke. Poor troubled one, thou hast said in thy heart, “My sins are too many to be forgiven.” What hast thou done? Repent thee, and let the tear roll down thy cheek. Thou hast limited the Holy One of Israel. Thou hast put thy sins above His grace. Thou hast considered that thy guilt is more omnipotent than omnipotence itself. He is able to save unto the uttermost them that come unto God by Christ. Thou canst not have exceeded the boundlessness of His grace. Be thy sins ever so many, the blood of Christ can put them all away; and if thou doubtest this, thou art limiting the Holy One of Israel. Another says, I do not doubt His power to save, but what I doubt is His willingness. What hast thou done in this? Thou hast limited the love, the boundless love of the Holy One of Israel.

3. If you will now consider how faithful God has been to His children, and how true He has been to all His promises, I think that saint and sinner may stand together and make a common confession and utter a common prayer: “Lord, we have been guilty of doubting Thee; we pray that we may limit Thee no longer.” (C. H. Spurgeon.)

Limiting the Holy One

I. Men do it in their intellectual theories. In their theories they limit Him--

1. In the sphere of His agency.

2. In the range of His mercy.

3. In the sovereignty of His action.

II. Men do it in their religious formalities.

1. In their prostration before material representations of Him.

2. In stereotyped forms of worship of Him.

3. In specially identifying Him with certain places of worship.

III. Men do it in their moral habitudes.

1. By their sins they exclude Him from the temple of their nature.

2. By their sins they obstruct His influence upon their sphere. (Homilist.)

Unbelief limiting God

I. In what way we may limit the Holy One of Israel. To limit is to set bounds to His operations; to circumscribe or confine Him in His ability to effect certain purposes or works, Now, God is often limited--

1. In the extent and freeness of His mercy. The Jews could not conceive of publicans and sinners being interested in Messiah’s regards.

2. The penitent sinner often does this as to the ability and willingness of God to save.

3. The believer in trouble often does this in confining God to a certain mode of deliverance.

4. We often do this in the contractedness of our prayers.

II. The evil of limiting the Holy One of Israel. To limit the Holy One of Israel is--

1. To bring down the Creator to the standard of the creature.

2. Disbelieving His Holy Word.

3. Ungrateful reflection upon Him for past mercies.

4. To limit our mercies and enjoyments. He says, “Be it unto you according unto your faith.” (J. Burns, D. D.)

Limiting the Holy One of Israel

I. This is the crime of idolatry and heathenism. Let us beware how we create an image of God in our minds, dishonourable to Him, and, by its limitation to our poor faculty, become the means of limiting the Holy One of Israel.

II. Idolatry is the growth of a seed deeper than itself, and that seed is sin. Sin limits the Holy One of Israel: the corrupt influence in the mind--in the heart, the perverted imagination, the perverted will. Sin closes the avenues by which God enters the human soul, and narrows the Divine Being in the conception. How dreadful does it seem, that man should build for himself a prison in which he shelters himself from the Almighty! Here at least the Almighty cannot come, hither He cannot penetrate; into the malignity of this heart, into the impurity of the world, He cannot descend.

III. By unbelief, or doubt, we limit the Holy One of Israel. Doubt is constantly taking the circumference of God with the compasses of man, and measuring His movements by earthly motheds and estimating His force and His ages by our notations and mechanics. How frequently men, Christian men, walk amidst the very mysteries and eternities of Godhead only to limit the Holy One of Israel. You talk of the boundlessness of His being--they run to and fro with a measuring line to take the dimensions of it. They limit the Holy One of Israel.

IV. There is a disposition in some philosophers to limit the Holy One of Israel even in the operations of nature. “Night,” it has been eloquently said, “has had three daughters, Religion, Superstition, and Atheism.” The firstborn, the eldest and loveliest, is Religion; it is through her guiding that all the “stars are heard to sing together,” and it is her voice which proclaims, “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmaments show His handiwork.” But Superstition was early born of the visions of the night; she named the Zodiac--she named the longest known of the planets--she hung over them the veil of fate, and made them the arbitrary mistresses and ministers of Destiny. But these latter ages have given birth to the third daughter of the dark hours--Atheism. (E. P. Hood.)

The sin of limiting God

I. The Being against whom the sin is committed. It is no one less than God Himself. He is here called “the Holy One.” God is essentially holy. He is holy in His law--as poor thoughtless sinners, that trifle with His law and disregarding all the claims of conscience, shall find either in this world or the next. He is still more manifestly holy in the Gospel; in which every doctrine, every promise, every precept, is but one glorious manifestation of His holiness. Now, that there should be even in the true Israel a proneness to “limit the Holy One”--that when they come into some new trial, into some new emergency, into some untried state--when they come to that stage in their journey that they have never travelled before, then there should be a proneness to “limit the Holy One”--oh! it marketh out that which should cause you and me to lay our mouths in the lowest dust.

II. The sin (Psalms 78:19-20).

1. To limit God is to limit His power; and He is omnipotent. There is nothing difficult with God; alike easy were it, to utter a promise or create a world. To limit the Omnipotent is another word for denying Him to be God.

2. To limit Jehovah is to limit His wisdom; and He is omniscient. He knows every thought, every desire, every misgiving, every infirmity, every sinking of heart; He knows it all. But this is to deny Him, as such.

3. We limit Him when we have misgivings as to His faithfulness. He has given a promise; and how seldom can you and I say, “I believe it simply because God says it; I do not take it now on the testimony of saints, I take it simply because God says it; God declares it, and I believe it!” But when we do not so, how is there a secret limiting of the faithfulness that is truth!--for “He cannot deny Himself”; He not only does not, but He cannot.

4. We limit Him when we mark out a line for His sovereignty, whereas “He gives no account of any of His matters.”

5. And if we are brought into the region of a dark Providence, when everything seems against us, when our most favourite desires seem to be blasted, when we are touched the most sensibly where we the least desired it--because the Lord seems to thwart one, one seems to limit His goodness. As if there could be an unkind thought in God; as if there could be any want of willingness in God to bless His child; as if He could withhold any good thing.

III. The cause. “They remembered not His hand.” The immediate cause of their “limiting the Holy One of Israel” was, no doubt, their unbelief; but this their unbelief seemed to have a cause, and that cause was their forgetfulness of God’s mercies. “They remembered not His hand”--the outstretched hand. What! when the poor soul first felt its weight and burden of sin--when the secrets within were developed--when the man began to see himself a sinner--and when there was the outstretched hand, and “Come unto me,” and “Him that cometh I will in no wise cast out!”--the hand that still sustains I that tender hand, that gentle hand, that strong hand, that broad hand, enough to cover us amidst the storm and the tempest. Oh! it is no small sin “not to remember the hand of our God.” We thereby “grieve the Spirit”; we thereby strengthen unbelief; we thereby weaken faith; we thereby displease our Heavenly Father. (J. H. Evans, M. A.)


Verse 51-52

Psalms 78:51-52

And smote all the firstborn in Egypt;. . . but made His own people to go forth like sheep.

God’s dealings with Egypt and Israel

I. The punishment of egypt. Egypt, through its kings, had become the determined adversary of God. “Who is Jehovah, that I should obey His voice?” was the challenge flung down by Pharaoh in defiance; and the Lord, who is a man of war, was not slow to accept it. Let us learn from this that, when God comes to try conclusions between Himself and His enemies, He may allow a certain time to elapse before He overthrows them, He may for a while smite gently, and so give opportunities for repentance; but if they be not accepted, we may depend upon it that God is not playing with sinners. In the case of Pharaoh, it was his own chickens that came home to roost; his sins brought their own punishment. He had slain many of the children of Israel, and God had, in effect, said to him, “Israel is my firstborn; let my people go”; and as he would not let God’s first-born go God’s stroke of judgment came upon his firstborn. This is, perhaps, the most dreadful truth about future retribution that a man will see his own sin in his suffering just as he sees his face in a glass. There is no escape from God’s judgment and no recovery from His blows.

II. The salvation of Israel (Psalms 78:52).

1. God has His people to this day. Their distinguishing mark is faith.

2. God brings these people out from among all others. He brought Israel up out of Egypt; and if you are one of His people, He will fetch you out of the world. God did not drive His people out of Egypt, but He led them; they came willingly and gladly, for Egypt had become a place of misery to them. So does the world become, with all its sinful pleasures; its fine glories turn to emptiness and vanity to the true child of God, and God fetches him out of it all.

3. The Lord not only brings His people away from others, but He brings them to Himself: “He made His own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock,” He Himself going before them through the desert way like a shepherd, O poor wandering souls, come to God through Jesus Christ His Son, follow where He leads, and walk ever in His way!

4. Further, in bringing sinners to Himself, God will also bring them to one another. “He made His own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.” He does not say that they should be like a solitary dog that comes at his master’s whistle, but like a flock of sheep that move together in one direction. It is one of the marks of God’s people that they love each other; He leads them forth like a flock of sheep, He brings them into union with one another: gives them happy fellowship in His Church, and so guides them to heaven.

5. The Lord brings His people out from the world, and brings them to Himself, and to fellowship with one another, and then He guides them to a place of rest, even as He led Israel into Canaan. (C. H. Spurgeon.)


Verse 56-57

Psalms 78:56-57

And kept not His testimonies: but turned back, and dealt unfaithfully their fathers.

The deceitfulness of the heart as to duty

I. As to the performance of duty, the heart discovers its power of deceit.

1. By diverting a person from those duties that are most spiritual in their nature. It will plead as to self-examination and meditation on the Word, that these duties are of too difficult a nature; that they require too close an attention; that it is very provoking to God to perform them carelessly; and therefore insist for the neglect of them, and for giving a preference to those of a more general nature.

2. By endeavouring to prevent any real communion with God, and to distract the mind by wandering in duty.

3. By inciting to hypocrisy. The people of God are sometimes disposed to appear to Him more fervent in duty than they really are, to make professions of love to Him which they do not presently feel, to express a hatred of sin and desire of His favour, without the immediate sense of either in their hearts.

4. By prompting the possessor to retain sin in his heart, even when he draws near to God.

5. By exciting a person to rely on his own strength.

6. By pleading uprightness of intention as an apology for a multitude of defects.

7. There are many, on the other hand, who please themselves with the form of duty, without any regard to the intention.

8. By stirring up the believer to spiritual pride after enjoying the Divine presence in duty.

9. By dissuading the Christian from duty, when the observation of it is attended with no comfort.

10. By making the person seek comfort from the mere performance of duty.

11. By inspiring one with greater boldness in duty, because of former comfort in the observation of it.

II. With respect to omission.

1. The heart urges the delay of duty, and thus discovers its deceitfulness, by promising a future opportunity.

2. It persuades us to omit duty by calling in the world to its aid. This is a faithful ally to the corrupt heart, always willing to lend its aid in turning us away from God.

3. It presents evil in opposition to present duty. When God presents an opportunity of serving Him, to which the renewed will consents, the deceitfulness of the heart offers a temptation to evil; and by the artfulness or force of the temptation endeavours to divert the believer from the good that he designs.

4. It dissuades from duty, because of insufficiency for performing it aright. The deceitful heart will often contradict itself, rather than fail of its intention, to baffle all the attempts of the believer in the service of his God. If engaged in duty, it persuades him to depend on his own strength. If he be convinced of the folly of this proposal, it will try to hinder him from duty, because of felt inability.

5. It prompts the Christian to resist the present call to duty, for want of a proper temper. By this is meant a right disposition of heart, liveliness of affections, a present feeling of the comforts of religion. A comfortable warmth of affections is most desirable, indeed, in the service of the Lord. But it is not essential to acceptable worship. A duty may be performed in the exercise of faith, while no sensible comfort is attained. But wilfully to omit any one for want of this is to renounce the true foundation of our access to God, which is only through Christ.

6. It dissuades from duty, by representing that an eminent measure of holiness is not necessary to salvation.

7. It inclines to the neglect of duty, lest others should construe it as presumption or hypocrisy. This is a modesty, for which God may be provoked so to chasten His people as to give them just cause of shame, and to cover their faces with deserved confusion.

We shall conclude with the following directions:--

1. Beware of neglecting the season of duty. God’s time is always the fittest for His own service.

2. Do not plead the world as an excuse for the omission of duty. God hath given you abundance of time to yourselves. “To everything there is a season,” etc. You may easily accomplish all your worldly business, and yet devote that time to God which He requires.

3. Be extremely suspicious of every excuse that your heart offers for the neglect of duty.

4. Quench not the Spirit, when exciting you to duty. This is grieving to the Holy Ghost, by whom you are sealed to the day of redemption.

5. Carry on, in the strength of promised grace, a constant war against the carnality of your hearts, against that opposition which is in them to duty. (J. Jamieson, M. A.)

The unfaithfulness of God’s people

When the bow is unbent, the rift it has may be undiscerned, but go to use it by drawing the arrow to the head and it flies in pieces; thus doth a false heart when put to the trial. As the ape in the fable, dressed like a man, when nuts are thrown before her, cannot then dissemble her nature any longer, but shows herself an ape indeed; a false heart betrays itself before it is aware, when a fair occasion is presented for its lust; whereas sincerity keeps the soul pure in the face of temptation. (W. Gurnall.)

Disobeying the King

To break the king’s laws is punishable, but to pull him out of his throne, and set up a scullion in it and give him the honour and obedience of a king, this is another kind of matter, and much more intolerable. The first commandment is not like the rest, which require only obedience to particular laws in a particular action, but it establisheth the very relations of sovereign and subject, and requires a constant acknowledgment of these relations, and make it high treason against the God of heaven in any that should violate that command. Now, this is the sin of every worldling: he hath taken down God from the throne in his soul and set up the flesh and the world in His stead; these he valueth and delighteth in; these have his very heart, while God that made it and redeemed it is set lightly by. (Richard Baxter.)


Verse 69

Psalms 78:69

He built His sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which He hath established for ever.

The Gospel palaces

“He built His sanctuary like high palaces”; look through this very country, compare its palaces with its cathedrals and churches, even in their present state of disadvantage, and say whether these words are not more than accomplished; so that the palaces of England should rather, by way of honour, be compared to the cathedrals, than the cathedrals to the palaces. And rightly so; for our first duty is towards our Lord and His Church, and our second towards our earthly sovereign. And still more strikingly has the promise of permanence been fulfilled to us. For what were the years of Solomon’s Temple? Four hundred. What of the second Temple? Six hundred. These were long periods, certainly; yet there are Christian temples in some parts of the world which have lasted as much as fourteen hundred years. Surely, then, when Christ multiplied His sacred palaces, He also gave them an extended age, bringing back under the Gospel the days of the antediluvian patriarchs. What a visible, palpable specimen this, of the communion of saints! What a privilege thus to be immediately interested in the deeds of our forefathers! and what a call on us, in like manner, to reach out our own hands towards our posterity! Freely we have received; let us freely give. See what a noble principle faith is. Faith alone lengthens a man’s existence, and makes him, in his own feelings, live in the future and in the past. Men of this world are full of plans of the day. Even in religion they are ever coveting immediate results, and will do nothing at all, unless they can do everything--can have their own way, choose their methods, and see the end. But the Christian throws himself fearlessly upon the future, because he believes in Him which is, and which was, and which is to come. He can endure to be one of an everlasting company while in this world, as well as in the next. He is content to begin, and break off; to do his part, and no more; to set about what others must accomplish; to sow where others must reap. None has finished his work, and cut it short in righteousness but He who is One. Thus were our churches raised. One age would build a chancel, and another a nave, and a third would add a chapel, and a fourth a shrine, and a fifth a spire. By little and little the work of grace went forward; and they could afford to take time about it, and be at pains to do it best, who had a promise that the gates of hell should not prevail against it. Thus the temples of God are withal the monuments of His saints, and we call them by their names while we consecrate them to His glory. Their simplicity, grandeur, solidity, elevation, grace, and exuberance of ornament, do but bring to remembrance the patience and purity, the courage, meekness, and great charity, the heavenly affections, the activity in well-doing, the faith and resignation, of men who themselves did but worship in mountains, and in deserts, and in caves and dens of the earth. They laboured, but not in vain, for other men entered into their labours; and, as if by natural consequence, at length their word prospered after them, and made itself a home, even these sacred palaces in which it has so long dwelt, and which are still vouchsafed to us, in token, as we trust, that they too are still with us who spoke that word, and, with them, His presence, who gave them grace to speak it. In heaven is the substance, of which here below we are vouchsafed the image; and thither, if we be worthy, we shall at length attain. There is the holy Jerusalem, whose light is like unto a stone most precious, even like a jasper stone, clear as crystal; and whose wall is great and high, with twelve gates, and an angel at each;--whose glory is the Lord God Almighty, and the Lamb is the light thereof. (J. H. Newman, D. D.)


Verses 70-72

Psalms 78:70-72

He chose David also His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds.

David, the shepherd, called to be king

A keeper of sheep, suddenly becoming conscious that he was chosen for a great yet terrible destiny; being gradually fitted among the quiet hill-sides to meet this mighty calling; and then, rising to the throne, so gifted with kingly power that he guided the people through their days of peril, and established them in a strength that outlived the wear of centuries--this man (so called) seems to stand far off from ourselves in a distant world of wonder. And yet, if we ask how he was trained unconsciously for his calling--how he was strengthened to discharge it, we shall find that the same Divine hand is shaping our career; the same Divine voice calling us; and the same Divine Spirit willing to fit us for our part in the battle of life.

I. The Divine calling of David.

1. How was David’s shepherd-life an unconscious preparation for his calling? Amid the stillness of the ancient hills, David, the shepherd youth, was learning to feel a presence which “surrounded him behind and before,” and to realize the nearness of One who read his thoughts in the silence, when the beatings of his own heart were audible, and who watched over him when the great night with its gleaming worlds gathered over valley and hill.

2. How did the Divine summons fit him for his vocation? The hour came when he was to know that through all his years he had been trained for it, when the “Spirit of the Lord came upon him from that day forward.” And now observe--he was sent back to his flocks; in the full knowledge of his grand destiny, sent to pass years of silent waiting. He knew that a Heavenly will had chosen him for his work; that a Heavenly eye was marking his way; that a Heavenly hand had arranged every trifle in his destiny; and therefore, let the future threaten and storm as it might, he could stand firmly on that rock of belief, amid the whirling tides of trouble.

II. Its modern lessons.

1. There is a Divine plan in every life. We cannot guide ourselves. Great events which we never foresee, or trifles which we despise, are the powers that seem to influence irresistibly the current of our earthly years. And, even when our cherished schemes succeed, they are never what are expected. Now, behind these mysterious forces, and acting through them--controlling these strange disappointments, and rendering them blessings--is the plan of God; which plan, proceeding from the everlasting past to the everlasting future, makes the individual life of every man, as it made that of David, a Divine education.

2. There is a Divine vocation for every man. A Heavenly Spirit is near us all. There are hours when His light flashes consciously across the soul, calling it to arise. Like David, every man was meant to be a king--to be a king in heaven, by becoming on earth a priest in the sacrifice of himself.

3. There is a Divine Shepherd for every man. “He gave His life for the sheep” That tells us who was the Shepherd whose presence David felt--the Christ, who came into this wild wilderness to seek and to save the lost. (E. L. Hull, B. A.)

David’s training

I look on David as an all but ideal king, educated for his office by an all but ideal training. A shepherd first; a life--be it remembered--full of danger in those times and lands; then captain of a band of outlaws; and lastly a king, gradually and with difficulty fighting his way to a secure throne. This was his course. But the most important stage of it was probably the first. Among the dumb animals he learnt experience which he afterwards put into practice among human beings. The shepherd of the sheep became the shepherd of men. He who had slain the lion and the bear became the champion of his native land. He who followed the ewes great with young, fed God’s oppressed and weary people with a faithful and true heart, till he raised them into a great and strong nation. So both sides of the true kingly character, the masculine and the feminine, are brought out in David. For the greedy and tyrannous, he has indignant defiance; for the weak and helpless, patient tenderness. For there is in this man (as there is said to be in all great geniuses) a feminine as well as a masculine vein; a passionate tenderness; a keen sensibility; a vast capacity of sympathy, sadness, and suffering, which makes him truly the type of Christ, the Man of sorrows; which makes his psalms to this day the text-book of the afflicted, of tens of thousands who have not a particle of his beauty, courage, genius; but yet can fool, in mean hovels and workhouse sick-beds, that the warrior-poet speaks to their human hearts, and for their human hearts, as none other can speak, save Christ Himself, the Son of David and the Son of Man. A man, I say, of intense sensibilities; and therefore capable, as is but too notorious, of great crimes, as well as of great virtues. We may pervert, or rather mistake the fact in more than one way, to our own hurt. We may say cynically, David had his good points and his bad ones, as all your great saints have. Look at them closely, and in spite of all their pretensions you will find them no better than their neighbours. And so we may comfort ourselves, in our own mediocrity and laziness, by denying the existence of all greatness and goodness. Again, we may say, sentimentally, that these great weaknesses are on the whole the necessary concomitants of great strength; that such highly organized and complex characters must not be judged by the rule of common respectability; and that it is a more or less fine thing to be capable at once of great virtues and great vices. But if we do say this, or anything like this, we say it on our own responsibility. David’s biographers say nothing of the kind. David himself says nothing of the kind. He never represents himself as a compound of strength and weakness. He represents himself as weakness itself--as incapacity utter and complete. To overlook that startling fact is to overlook the very element which has made David’s psalms the text-book for all human weaknesses, penitences, sorrows, struggles, aspirations, for nigh three thousand years. (C. Kingsley, M. A.)
.

Psalms 79:1-13

 


Copyright Statement
These files are public domain.
Text Courtesy of BibleSupport.com. Used by Permission.

Bibliography Information
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Psalms 78:4". The Biblical Illustrator. https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/tbi/psalms-78.html. 1905-1909. New York.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, December 15th, 2019
the Third Week of Advent
ADVERTISEMENT
Commentary Navigator
Search This Commentary
Enter query in the box below
ADVERTISEMENT
To report dead links, typos, or html errors or suggestions about making these resources more useful use our convenient contact form
Powered by Lightspeed Technology