Tuesday, 5 August 2014

(218) August 6: Psalm 78 & Romans 7

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­
As you read consider the main point the psalmist wants to make.

To ponder:
Psalm 77 meditates on God parting the Red Sea as he redeemed his people from Egypt. Psalm 78 continues the theme of meditation, but beginning with the next phase of God’s purposes – his granting of the law at Sinai (78v5). The introduction to the psalm calls people to listen to what the people have known because it was told them by their fathers (78v1-3). It then commits to telling the next generation these praiseworthy deeds of power (7v4). This is the purpose of the psalm, reminding us of the instructive role song has.
            And so the giving of the law is recounted, and specifically God’s call that it be taught to each generation of children so that they would trust God, keep the commands, and not be like their stubborn and unfaithful fathers – ie. the ones who received the law only to rebel against God in the desert (78v5-8). This rebelliousness is described with focus on the Northern Kingdom (all Israel expect for the tribes of Benjamin and Judah), represented by “Ephraim” as it’s princely tribe (see 78v67, Gen 49v22-26). They are charged with cowardice and so lack of faith in battle, refusal to live by God’s law, and forgetfulness of the miracles by which God led the people through the Red Sea, guided them by pillar of cloud and fire, and provided them with water from the rock (78v9-16). The sense is probably that if they had remembered God’s deeds they would have trusted and obeyed him. Instead, we’re told they continued their sin in the desert, testing God by demanding food and suggesting he was unable to provide it (78v17-20). God’s wrath by fire is noted as a consequence of this lack of faith, yet also his generous provision in raining down manna (described as the bread of angels) and quail (like sand on the seashore), so that they had more than enough (78v21-29). His continued wrath is also detailed in the fact that even while they ate God put to death the youngest and so strongest amongst them (78v30-31). Such history warns against similar faithlessness.
            Despite seeing all these wonders, this first generation out of Egypt kept sinning. And so their repeated apostasy is outlined, in which they ended their days in terror: God would slay them, and they would then turn and remember him as their rock (security) and redeemer (rescuer). But their vocalized devotion was effectively a lie because their hearts were not loyal, and so they proved unfaithful to God’s covenant. Yet by contrast, we read how time and again, God showed mercy and forgave them, remembering the weakness of their flesh and mortality (78v32-39). This suggests to some extent God tolerates our sin in knowing how susceptible we are to it. But here we are also urged to sincere rather than hypocritical repentance.
            Once more, despite such grace from God, again and again the people rebelled, grieved, tested and vexed God, and all because they “did not remember” his miracles – here, the plagues of Egypt, culminating in his anger being unleashed through “a band of destroying angels” by which he struck down the firstborn (78v40-51). By this means God brought his people out and through the desert like sheep, guiding them safely whilst drowning their enemies in the Red Sea, and then bringing them to inherit the promised land whilst driving out the Canaanite nations (78v52-55). We have now moved a generation on from those redeemed from Egypt and so are learning of the continued sinfulness of the nation in the face of God’s kindness. And so this next generation also tested God by rebelling against him like their fathers, angering him with their idolatry until he “rejected Israel” completely by withdrawing his presence from the tabernacle when it was situated at Shiloh. This led to the ark that symbolised his presence and splendour being captured by the Philistines, and the people being put to the sword’ (78v56-64, 1 Sam 4). It’s a reminder that God’s patience does not last forever. Judgement will come.
            The psalmist tells us God “awoke” and everlastingly shamed the enemies (ie. humbled them in defeat), but then rejected “Ephraim,” instead choosing Judah and Mount Zion within it as the place for his sanctuary. Interestingly, its building (as the temple) is likened to the establishing of the earth, showing the latter was intended to be the place of God’s special presence (as in Eden) and the former, a foretaste of the new creation. We also read how God chose David, taking him from his sheep to shepherd Israel, which he did with “integrity of heart” and skilful hands (78v65-72). Throughout then, the psalm seems to want to explain why, despite Ephraim’s greatness by size and prowess, she was not the tribe through which God’s promises would be fulfilled. Like all Israel, including Judah, she sinned. And so, God’s purposes would be fulfilled not by the merit of any tribe, but by his sovereign choice. He therefore chose Judah, who had been relatively insignificant to that point, and the least of its people – a shepherd boy. This is God’s way in our salvation, and most importantly in his choice of a poor family from Nazareth through which to bring Christ. The issue is not greatness in any worldly sense, but integrity of heart and the mighty acts of God. And it is remembrance of these things in particular, that the psalm commends to God’s people.

Praying it home:                                                                                   
Praise God that for his patience with our sin. Pray that you would not take that patience for granted but be sincere in your repentance.

Thinking further:
None today.

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