Psalm 78 – “Historical Sermon”

Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
The psalmist recounts the people’s history from the exodus until the monarchy.

II. Photo
God performed wonders in Egypt: “He killed their vines with hail, their sycamores with frost.” (v. 47)

III. Select Verses    
2-3: I will expound a theme, hold forth on the lessons of the past, things we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.
6-8: That a future generation might know — children yet to be born — and in turn tell their children that they might put their confidence in God, and not forget God’s great deeds, but observe His commandments, and not be like their fathers, a wayward and defiant generation, a generation whose heart was inconstant, whose spirit was not true to God.
13-16: He split the sea and took them through it; He made the waters stand like a wall. He led them with a cloud by day, and throughout the night by the light of fire. He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink as if from the great deep. He brought forth streams from a rock and made them flow down like a river.
19-20: They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a feast in the wilderness?  True, He struck the rock and waters flowed, streams gushed forth; but can He provide bread? Can He supply His people with meat?”
42-51: They did not remember His strength, or the day He redeemed them from the foe; how He displayed His signs in Egypt, His wonders in the plain of Zoan. He turned their rivers into blood; He made their waters undrinkable. He inflicted upon them swarms of insects to devour them, frogs to destroy them. He gave their crops over to grubs, their produce to locusts. He killed their vines with hail, their sycamores with frost. He gave their beasts over to hail, their cattle to lightning bolts.  He inflicted His burning anger upon them, wrath, indignation, trouble, a band of deadly messengers.  He cleared a path for His anger; He did not stop short of slaying them, but gave them over to pestilence. He struck every first-born in Egypt, the first fruits of their vigor in the tents of Ham.
67-68: He rejected the clan of Joseph; He did not choose the tribe of Ephraim.  He did choose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which He loved.
70-72: He chose David, His servant, and took him from the sheepfolds. He brought him from minding the nursing ewes to tend His people Jacob, Israel, His very own. He tended them with blameless heart; with skillful hands he led them.

IV. Outline

1a. Superscription
1b-8. Exordium (introduction)
9-72. Historical lesson
    9-11. The failings of Ephraim
    12-14. Egypt
    15-16. The wilderness
    17-20. Doubting God
    21-22. Punishment
    23-29. God brings food
    30-33. Punishment
    34-35. Repentance
    36-37. Relapse
    38-39. God’s restraint
    40-41. The defiant nature of Israel
    42-51. Egypt
    52-53. The wilderness
    54-55. Settling the land of Israel
    56-58. Sinning in the land
    59-64. Punishment
    65-66. God the warrior
    67-68. Israel and Judah
    69. The temple
    70-72. David

V. Comment
Psalm 78, which is the second longest psalm in the Psalter, tells Israel’s history from the time of the exodus until the divided monarchy. Gerstenberger writes: “[The psalm] does not want simply to teach history, but to exemplify present faith in the light of a few historical situations… Edification of the community was the chief purpose of the liturgical teams, who would work on the texts to use them in solemn assemblies. This goal would include strengthening the faith and conscience of members of a Yahweh congregation.” (93, 98)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Gerstenberger, Erhard S. “Psalms Part 1 with an Introduction to Cultic Poetry” Forms of Old Testament Literature (Michigan: Eerdmans, 1988).
Tate, Marvin. “Psalms 51-100” Word Biblical Commentary vol. 20 (Waco, Texas: Wordbooks, 1990).
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