PSALM 78#A recital of history to show that past generations did not respond to God’s gracious deeds and were punished by God making the gift into a punishment. Will Israel fail to appreciate God’s act—the choosing of Zion and of David? The tripartite introduction invites Israel to learn the lessons hidden in its traditions (Ps 78:1–4, 5–7, 8–11); each section ends with the mention of God’s acts. There are two distinct narratives of approximately equal length: the wilderness events (Ps 78:12–39) and the movement from Egypt to Canaan (Ps 78:40–72). The structure of both is parallel: gracious act (Ps 78:12–16, 40–55), rebellion (Ps 78:17–20, 56–58), divine punishment (Ps 78:21–31, 59–64), God’s readiness to forgive and begin anew (Ps 78:32–39, 65–72). While the Psalm has been thought to reflect the reunification program of either King Hezekiah (late eighth century) or King Josiah (late seventh century) in that the Northern Kingdom (Ephraim, Joseph) is especially invited to accept Zion and the Davidic king, a postexilic setting is also possible. Notable is the inclusion of the David-Zion tradition into the history of Israel recounted in the sources of the Pentateuch.
A New Beginning in Zion and David
1A maskil of Asaph.
Attend, my people, to my teaching;
listen to the words of my mouth.
2I will open my mouth in a parable,#Parable: Hebrew mashal literally refers to some sort of relationship of comparison and can signify a story whose didactic potential becomes clear in the telling, as here in the retrospective examination of the history of Israel. Mt 13:35 cites the verse to explain Jesus’ use of parables.
unfold the puzzling events of the past.#a. [78:2] Ps 49:5; Mt 13:35.
3What we have heard and know;
things our ancestors have recounted to us.#b. [78:3] Ps 44:2.
4We do not keep them from our children;
we recount them to the next generation,
The praiseworthy deeds of the Lord and his strength,
the wonders that he performed.#c. [78:4] Ex 10:2; Dt 4:9; Jb 8:8.
5God made a decree in Jacob,
established a law in Israel:#d. [78:5] Ps 147:19; Dt 33:4.
Which he commanded our ancestors,
they were to teach their children;
6That the next generation might come to know,
children yet to be born.#e. [78:6] Ps 22:31–32; Dt 4:9; 6:7.
In turn they were to recount them to their children,
7that they too might put their confidence in God,
And not forget God’s deeds,
but keep his commandments.
8They were not to be like their ancestors,
a rebellious and defiant generation,#f. [78:8] Dt 31:27; 32:5.
A generation whose heart was not constant,#g. [78:8] Ps 95:10.
and whose spirit was not faithful to God.
9The ranks of Ephraimite archers,#Ephraimite archers: Ephraim was the most important tribe of the Northern Kingdom. Its military defeat (here unspecified) demonstrates its infidelity to God, who otherwise would have protected it.
retreated on the day of battle.
10They did not keep God’s covenant;
they refused to walk according to his law.
11They forgot his deeds,
the wonders that he had shown them.
12In the sight of their ancestors God did wonders,
in the land of Egypt, the plain of Zoan.#Zoan: a city on the arm of the Nile, a former capital of Egypt.#h. [78:12] Ps 106:7.
13He split the sea and led them across,#i. [78:13–14] Ps 136:13; Ex 14–15.
making the waters stand like walls.#j. [78:13] Ex 14:22; 15:8.
14He led them with a cloud by day,
all night with the light of fire.#k. [78:14] Ps 105:39; Ex 13:21; Wis 18:3.
15He split rocks in the desert,
gave water to drink, abundant as the deeps of the sea.#l. [78:15] Ps 105:41; 114:8; Ex 17:1–7; Nm 20:2–13; Dt 8:15; Wis 11:4; Is 48:21.
16He made streams flow from crags,
caused rivers of water to flow down.
17But they went on sinning against him,
rebelling against the Most High in the desert.#m. [78:17] Dt 9:7; Ez 20:13.
18They tested God in their hearts,
demanding the food they craved.#n. [78:18] Ps 106:14; Ex 16:2–36.
19They spoke against God, and said,
“Can God spread a table in the wilderness?#o. [78:19] Ps 23:5.
20True, when he struck the rock,
water gushed forth,
the wadies flooded.
But can he also give bread,
or provide meat to his people?”
21The Lord heard and grew angry;#p. [78:21f] Nm 11; Dt 32:22.
fire blazed up against Jacob;
anger flared up against Israel.
22For they did not believe in God,
did not trust in his saving power.
23#On the manna and the quail, see Ex 16 and Nm 11. Unlike Ex 16, here both manna and quail are instruments of punishment, showing that a divine gift can become deadly because of Israel’s apostasy.So he commanded the clouds above;
and opened the doors of heaven.
24God rained manna upon them for food;
grain from heaven he gave them.#q. [78:24] Ps 105:40; Ex 16:4, 14; Dt 8:3; Wis 16:20; Jn 6:31.
25 Man ate the bread of the angels;#Bread of the angels: The translation “angels” comports with the supernatural origin of the manna, though the Hebrew lechem ‘abbirim is more literally translated as “bread of the strong ones” or “bread of the mighty.” In the context of the manna event, this phrase cannot possibly mean the Israelites or any human being.
food he sent in abundance.
26He stirred up the east wind in the skies;
by his might God brought on the south wind.
27He rained meat upon them like dust,
winged fowl like the sands of the sea,
28They fell down in the midst of their camp,
all round their dwellings.
29They ate and were well filled;
he gave them what they had craved.
30But while they still wanted more,
and the food was still in their mouths,
31God’s anger flared up against them,
and he made a slaughter of their strongest,
laying low the youth of Israel.#r. [78:31] Nm 14:29.
32In spite of all this they went on sinning,
they did not believe in his wonders.
33God ended their days abruptly,
their years in sudden death.
34When he slew them, they began to seek him;
they again looked for God.#s. [78:34] Dt 32:15, 18; Is 26:16.
35They remembered#Remembered: invoked God publicly in worship. Their words were insincere (Ps 78:36). that God was their rock,
God Most High, their redeemer.
36But they deceived him with their mouths,
lied to him with their tongues.
37Their hearts were not constant toward him;
they were not faithful to his covenant.#t. [78:37] Ps 95:10; Is 29:13.
38#God is always ready to forgive and begin anew, as in choosing Zion and David (Ps 78:65–72).But God being compassionate forgave their sin;
he did not utterly destroy them.
Time and again he turned back his anger,
unwilling to unleash all his rage.#u. [78:38] Ps 85:4; Ex 32:14; Is 48:9; Ez 20:22.
39He remembered that they were flesh,
a breath that passes on and does not return.
40How often they rebelled against God in the wilderness,
grieved him in the wasteland.
41Again and again they tested God,
provoked the Holy One of Israel.
42They did not remember his power,
the day he redeemed them from the foe,#v. [78:42] Ps 106:21.
43#Ex 7–12 records ten plagues. Here there are six divine attacks upon Egypt; the seventh climactic act is God’s bringing Israel to the holy land.When he performed his signs in Egypt,
his wonders in the plain of Zoan.#w. [78:43f] Ps 105:27–36; 135:9; Ex 7:14–11:10; 12:29–36; Wis 16–18.
44God turned their rivers to blood;
their streams they could not drink.
45He sent swarms of insects that devoured them,#x. [78:45] Ex 8:17.
frogs that destroyed them.
46He gave their harvest to the caterpillar,
the fruits of their labor to the locust.
47He killed their vines with hail,#y. [78:47] Wis 16:16.
their sycamores with frost.
48He exposed their cattle to plague,
their flocks to pestilence.#z. [78:48] Ex 9:3.
49He let loose against them the heat of his anger,
wrath, fury, and distress,
a band of deadly messengers.
50He cleared a path for his anger;
he did not spare them from death,
but delivered their animals to the plague.
51He struck all the firstborn of Egypt,#a. [78:51] Ps 105:36; 136:10; Ex 12:29.
the first fruits of their vigor in the tents of Ham.
52Then God led forth his people like sheep,
guided them like a flock through the wilderness.#b. [78:52] Ps 77:21.
53He led them on secure and unafraid,
while the sea enveloped their enemies.#c. [78:53] Ex 14:26–28.
54And he brought them to his holy mountain,
the hill his right hand had won.#d. [78:54] Ex 15:17.
55He drove out the nations before them,
allotted them as their inherited portion,
and settled in their tents the tribes of Israel.
56But they tested and rebelled against God Most High,
his decrees they did not observe.
57They turned disloyal, faithless like their ancestors;
they proved false like a slack bow.
58They enraged him with their high places,
and with their idols provoked him#Provoked him: lit., “made him jealous.” to jealous anger.#e. [78:58] Dt 32:16, 21.
59God heard and grew angry;
he rejected Israel completely.
60He forsook the shrine at Shiloh,#Shiloh: an important shrine in the north prior to Jerusalem. Despite its holy status, it was destroyed (Ps 78:60–64; cf. Jer 7:12, 14).#f. [78:60] Jos 18:1; 1 Sm 1:3; Jer 7:12; 26:6.
the tent he set up among human beings.
61He gave up his might into captivity,
his glorious ark into the hands of the foe.#g. [78:61] 1 Sm 4:11, 22.
62God delivered his people to the sword;
he was enraged against his heritage.
63Fire consumed their young men;
their young women heard no wedding songs.#h. [78:63] Dt 32:25; Jer 7:34.
64Their priests fell by the sword;
their widows made no lamentation.
65Then the Lord awoke as from sleep,
like a warrior shouting from the effects of wine.
66He put his foes to flight;
everlasting shame he dealt them.
67He rejected the tent of Joseph,
chose not the tribe of Ephraim.
68#God’s ultimate offer of mercy to the sinful, helpless people is Zion and the Davidic king.God chose the tribe of Judah,
Mount Zion which he loved.#i. [78:68] Ps 48:2; 50:2; Lam 2:15.
69He built his shrine like the heavens,
like the earth which he founded forever.
70He chose David his servant,
took him from the sheepfolds.#j. [78:70] Ps 89:21; Ez 34:23; 37:24; 2 Chr 6:6.
71From tending ewes God brought him,
to shepherd Jacob, his people,
Israel, his heritage.#k. [78:71] 1 Sm 16:11–13; 2 Sm 7:8.
72He shepherded them with a pure heart;
with skilled hands he guided them.