DUNCAN/We will tell the next generation

DUNCAN/We will tell the next generation


If you have your Bibles, I’d invite you to turn with me to Psalm 78 as we continue to work through the Third Book of the Psalms together. This is one of the longer Psalms in the Psalter, but the outline provided will give some sense of where Asaph is going in this Psalm. He begins in verses 1 – 8 by calling us to pay heed to the instruction of God’s word, and then to pass on that truth to another generation. In verses 9 – 64, we are given a description of the Northern Kingdom of Israel that went the way of idolatry. And then finally in verses 65 – 72, we see God’s faithfulness to the Southern Kingdom, and especially as it is typified in the tribe of Judah. 

I. The Call to Instruction

The first section of the Psalm is broken into two parts. In verse 1 – 4 we see the opening exhortation to hear this instruction and to pass it along. In verses 5 – 8 we see an explanation of what the law is for and what we are to learn from God’s word. Verse 5 says, “For He established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which He commanded our fathers, that they should teach them to their children.” Very often when we hear the word “law” the first thing we think of is a law that is made by a civil governor. But in Israel, the first thing that would have come to mind when hearing the word “law” was instruction. It’s a far broader category than the way we typically think of law. And God commanded our fathers that they should teach it to their children so that they might know and study God’s instruction.

And, according to verse 7, there are three positive things which are to result from the study of God’s instruction. The first thing is that we would put our confidence in God. Rather than trusting in ourselves or the world, we are to trust in God. When we do not have faith it either leads to despair or carnal security. We will either come to the point where we realize that there is no security in the things that we are trusting, or we will get comfortable trusting in those things even though they are chimeras. So, the first thing the law teaches is for us to trust in God. 

The second thing that the law is to teach us is that God is sovereign, and so our thinking about Him should be humble and grateful. Notice what it says, “They should put their confidence in God and not forget the works of God.” The works of God are listed over and over in the Psalm. Those works are mighty acts whereby He brought the children of Israel out of Egypt and provided for them miraculously while they were in the wilderness, so that their minds would be dominated by the realization of God’s sovereign grace.

Thirdly, notice that the law is to move us to obedience. In other words, when we realize the greatness of God’s grace, we are to respond to that in obedience. We are to show our gratitude to God for His mercies by keeping His commandments.

II. The Northern Kingdom

The Psalm then provides a negative example of something that was not to be followed, and that was the unfaithfulness amongst the people of God who had not truly trusted in Him. The first part, in verses 9 – 16, shows how the wonders of the Exodus were quickly forgotten by the people of God. They had failed to remember what God had done for them. This generation forgot the wondrous works of God. And so it makes perfect sense that this Psalm would open up with an exhortation to us: Don’t let your children fail to hear the wondrous works of God.

And then in verses 17 – 31 we see a further sin: a lack of faith. God’s providence in the wilderness was questioned by His people. They didn’t have faith that He would provide for them. They had a contempt for His promise to give them what they needed. Now, that lack of faith, which started with the failure to remember the works of God, will end up in idolatry. 

The third accusation that’s brought against Ephraim you see in verses 32 – 39. God’s punishments and warnings are unheeded, and we see God’s judgment and then their remorse (not really repentance). And then, even in light of their lack of repentance, we see God patiently showing mercy to them.

Then again in verses 40 – 55 we go back to the Exodus and their failure to realize the power of God displayed in the plagues. Six of the ten plagues are recorded, and it’s a reminder of how God in His power had secured their release. But that message had been missed. And what does it lead to? Well, that is described in verses 56 – 64.

Here we see the final judgment on that Northern Kingdom for their sin. Their idolatry had finally come to seed. This is the morality tale that is told by the psalmist. We were told ahead of time, in verse 8, that we should not be like our fathers: to forget the works and power of God; to fail to trust in God; and, thus, to commit the sin of idolatry. That’s the warning lesson to us from this part of the Psalm.

III. The Southern Kingdom

But then the Psalm ends on a glorious high note, and you see it there in verses 65 – 72. It recounts God’s faithfulness to the Southern Kingdom, His provision for Judah, His promises to Judah. We then see the mercies of God in His provision and in guidance through His shepherd David. And so what are we to learn from this? No matter what we are tempted to put our confidence in, God alone deserves our faith and trust. As we remember the works of God, we respond to Him in gratitude by obeying His commandments. 

Ultimately this Psalm points to God’s provision for His people in David’s greater Son who would come to shepherd His people. May we tell that story to the next generation. May we remind that generation not only of God’s works which He has revealed to us in His word, but may we remind them of God’s works for us in our lives.

Our young people have been told that this God that they have been taught about is not true, that this God that they have been taught, this religion they have learned is not reality. They’re told, “That’s okay for you to believe, but you shouldn’t impose that on other people.” It’s undermining their confidence in the word of God, and the psalmist is reminding us that we must be ready to meet them with the recounting of His marvelous works and of His trustworthiness. May God bless us as we do so. 

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