Psalm 78

Tell the Coming Generation

Psalm 78:1-8

78 A Maskil of Asaph.

              Give ear, O my people, to my teaching; incline your ears to the words of my mouth!

              I will open my mouth in a parable; I will utter dark sayings from of old,

              things that we have heard and known, that our fathers have told us.

              We will not hide them from their children, but tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.

              He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children,

              that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children,

so that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments;

              and that they should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.


The introduction to this Psalm sets the scene.

  1.  Verses 3-4 teach us that it is a duty of each generation to pass on the faith to the next generation.
  2. Verse 5-6 tell us that it is God’s will that we would remind our children and our children’s children of God’s mighty works.
  3. Verse 7-8 teach us that the purpose of this instruction is that the coming generations would trust in God and keep the Lord’s deeds and commandments in mind.
    It also serves to help us avoid the errors and sins of the past.
    We are to remind our children of the rebellion of God’s people that arose from their failure to remember God as an encouragement that they would remember what God has done.
  4. If all of this is going to happen there must be an understanding of the past.
    There must be teaching in ways that we can all understand.
    This teaching needs to explain what has happened in the past in a way that we and our children can apply it to our current situation.

This is the purpose of the psalm:  to explain the riddle of the past so it becomes a lesson for the present and the future.

The past is very complex and we often do not know why we are reading of battles, Red Seas, genealogies, and kingdoms rising and falling.

The Psalm boils down the riddle of the past and presents a single principle to all the complexities of Israel’s history.

It then offers this as an important calling to us for how we are to think and live in light of it.

The Psalm provides two reviews of history.

Verses 12-39 is one review of history while verses 43-72 is another.

Verses 9-11 and 40-42 introduce these two major sections and form the essence of the Psalm.

Verses 9-11 teach us that the Lord’s people (Ephraim) were defeated because they forgot.

Verses 40-42 links their repeated rebellion against the Lord to the fact that they did not remember.

If only they had not forgotten, the enemy would not have triumphed.

If only they had remembered, they would have lived in faith and obedience.

This is the power of memory.

This is the danger of forgetfulness.

This is the key to the Psalm:  remember.


For several years now, there has been a large study on the religious beliefs of adolescents in America led by sociologist Christian Smith.

When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.”[i]

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of these beliefs:

1. “A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth.”

2. “God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.”

3. “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.”

4. “God does not need to be particularly involved in one’s life except when God is needed to resolve a problem.”

5. “Good people go to heaven when they die.”

That, in sum, is the creed to which most American Christians’ faith can be reduced. After conducting more than 3,000 interviews with American adolescents, the researchers reported that, when it came to the most crucial questions of faith and beliefs, many adolescents responded with a shrug and “whatever.”


Psalm 78:9-11

      The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle.

10     They did not keep God’s covenant, but refused to walk according to his law.

11     They forgot his works and the wonders that he had shown them.

Psalm 78:40-42

40     How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!

41     They tested God again and again and provoked the Holy One of Israel.

42     They did not remember his power or the day when he redeemed them from the foe,


Saul the Benjamite (1 Sa. 9:1–2) was particularly associated with the ‘northern’ tribes, which was called both Ephraim and Israel. His home was in Gibeah (1 Sa. 10:26) which 1 Samuel 9:4 suggests was in the hills of Ephraim.

The review of history begins with the downfall of the house of Saul and asks why it should have happen.  After all, the men of Ephraim were ‘the best equipped bowmen’.

But, for the Lord’s people, victory does not come from our skill and resources but from loyalty and obedience to the Lord that is prompted by us remembering what the Lord has done for us.

Returning to the study of American Christians, it found that American teenagers are not inarticulate in general.

As the researchers found, “Many teenagers know abundant details about the lives of favorite musicians and television stars or about what it takes to get into a good college, but most are not very clear on who Moses and Jesus were.”

The researchers noted: “This suggests that a strong, visible, salient, or intentional faith is not operating in the foreground of most teenager’s lives.”

The interviewers discovered that for many of these teens, the interview itself was the first time they had ever discussed a theological question with an adult.


Psalm 78:12-14

12In the sight of their fathers he performed wonders in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.

13He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap.

14In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a fiery light.

Psalm 78:43-53

43when he performed his signs in Egypt and his marvels in the fields of Zoan.

44He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams.

45He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them.

46He gave their crops to the destroying locust and the fruit of their labor to the locust.

47He destroyed their vines with hail and their sycamores with frost.

48He gave over their cattle to the hail and their flocks to thunderbolts.

49He let loose on them his burning anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels.

50He made a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death, but gave their lives over to the plague.

51He struck down every firstborn in Egypt, the firstfruits of their strength in the tents of Ham.

52Then he led out his people like sheep and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.

53He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid, but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.


These verses remind the hearers of the coming out of Egypt and the Lord’s great works of redemption.

The Lord overpowered every enemy in the plagues on Egypt and the crossing of the Red Sea.

Every section ends with the thought of the Lord providing both guidance and security for His people.

The Lord’s power is always against every circumstance and force that is hurting God’s people.

That same power that is against God’s enemies is always for God’s people.


Returning again to the study of American Christians, many responses fell along very moralistic lines–but they reserved their most non-judgmental attitudes for matters of theological conviction and belief.

Some went so far as to suggest that there are no “right” answers in matters of doctrine and theological conviction.

Moralistic Therapeutic Deism “is about embracing a moralistic approach to life.

It teaches that central to living a good and happy life is being a good, moral person.

That means being nice, kind, pleasant, respectful, responsible, at work on self-improvement, taking care of one’s health, and doing one’s best to be successful.”

They believe that religion should be centered in being “nice”.

But, for most of them, having strong theological convictions is not nice and is therefore a violation of what it means to be a nice, kind, and successful person.


Psalm 78:15-16

15He split rocks in the wilderness and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.

16He made streams come out of the rock and caused waters to flow down like rivers.

Psalm 78:54-55

54And he brought them to his holy land, to the mountain which his right hand had won.

55He drove out nations before them; he apportioned them for a possession and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.


The scenes shift from the Red Sea and Egypt to the wilderness and the pilgrimage of God’s people where God provided food, water, clothing, and protection for 40 years.

It then takes us into the Promised Land itself to help recall that the Lord provided a land for them.

The Lord takes what is His and He makes it ours.  He provides for all our needs.

God is intimately involved and intrusive in the lives of His people.


For many believers today, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism presents a unique understanding of God.

This faith “is about belief in a particular kind of God: one who exists, created the world, and defines our general moral order, but not one who is particularly personally involved in one’s affairs–especially affairs in which one would prefer not to have God involved.

Most of the time, the God of this faith keeps a safe distance.”

This distortion of Christianity has taken root not only in the minds of individuals, but also “within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions.”

How can you tell?

The language, and experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, .heaven and hell have disappeared from the scene.

These have been replaced by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward.


Psalm 78:17-33

17Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.

18They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.

19They spoke against God, saying, “Can God spread a table in the wilderness?

20He struck the rock so that water gushed out and streams overflowed. Can he also give bread or provide meat for his people?”

21Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of wrath; a fire was kindled against Jacob; his anger rose against Israel,

22because they did not believe in God and did not trust his saving power.

23Yet he commanded the skies above and opened the doors of heaven,

24and he rained down on them manna to eat and gave them the grain of heaven.

25Man ate of the bread of the angels; he sent them food in abundance.

26He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;

27he rained meat on them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;

28he let them fall in the midst of their camp, all around their dwellings.

29And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.

30But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths,

31the anger of God rose against them, and he killed the strongest of them and laid low the young men of Israel.

32In spite of all this, they still sinned; despite his wonders, they did not believe.

33So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror.

Psalm 78:56-64

56Yet they tested and rebelled against the Most High God and did not keep his testimonies,

57but turned away and acted treacherously like their fathers; they twisted like a deceitful bow.

58For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols.

59When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel.

60He forsook his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt among mankind,

61and delivered his power to captivity, his glory to the hand of the foe.

62He gave his people over to the sword and vented his wrath on his heritage.

63Fire devoured their young men, and their young women had no marriage song.

64Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows made no lamentation.


Israel’s history was stained by sin, rebellion, and testing God.

They tested his faithfulness and disbelieved His power to provide food and water and would not believe until He proved Himself.

They tested his patience, disbelieving His holiness and judgment.

All of this led to wrath and judgment.

The tragedies of life and the times of plenty were all acts of God.

The people would not ask for food or help in the spirit of faith but in order to satisfy their greed in their unbelief.

How often do we complain when our desires are crossed by God, not considering that the Lord is holding back something that would harm us?

As we think about our context, is our real problem that America is becoming more secularized?

Isn’t that a regular complaint?

But is that the real problem?

Isn’t it more alarming that Christianity is either degenerating into a pathetic version of itself or, more significantly, Christianity is actively being colonized and displaced by a quite different religious faith?

This radical transformation of Christian theology and Christian belief replaces the sovereignty of God with the sovereignty of the self.

In this therapeutic age, human problems are reduced to pathologies in need of a treatment plan.

Sin is simply excluded from the picture, and doctrines as central as the wrath and justice of God are discarded as out of step with the times and unhelpful to the project of self-actualization.

All this means is that young American Christians have been listening carefully.

They have been observing their parents in the larger culture.

They understand just how little their parents really believe and just how much many of their churches and Christian institutions have accommodated themselves to the dominant culture.

They sense the degree to which theological conviction has been sacrificed on the altar of individualism and a relativistic understanding of truth.

They have learned from their elders that self-improvement is the one great moral imperative to which all are accountable, and they have observed the fact that the highest aspiration of those who shape this culture is to find happiness, security, and meaning in life.

It seems rather hopeless.

But God…


Psalm 78:34-39

34When he killed them, they sought him; they repented and sought God earnestly.

35They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.

36But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues.

37Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not faithful to his covenant.

38Yet he, being compassionate, atoned for their iniquity and did not destroy them; he restrained his anger often and did not stir up all his wrath.

39He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and comes not again.

Psalm 78:65-72

65Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a strong man shouting because of wine.

66And he put his adversaries to rout; he put them to everlasting shame.

67He rejected the tent of Joseph; he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim,

68but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves.

69He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.

70He chose David his servant and took him from the sheepfolds;

71from following the nursing ewes he brought him to shepherd Jacob his people, Israel his inheritance.

72With upright heart he shepherded them and guided them with his skillful hand.


Beloved, the Lord knows His people’s hearts – deceitful, unreliable.

But His steadfast, passionate love makes atonement, restrains His anger and remembers the frailty of His children.

He is the rock.

He is changless and stable in His saving and life-giving action.

Consider the remarkable picture as the Lord is aroused to compassion for His people.

We feel pressed down and destroyed for our forgetfulness and for our sin.

It seems like He’s sleeping.

But then He is aroused like a mighty warrior who just woke up after having drunk wine.

He doesn’t move slowly but swiftly!

He doesn’t move meekly but powerfully.

Our great Redeemer, our great Rock was not content to let His people forget.

He was not content to let the Curse be the final word.

The Lion of Judah.

The Son of David.

The Great King.

Took on human flesh.

Veiled His glory.

Despised and rejected by a people who had forgotten.

A people who had been enslaved to sin and death because they had not remembered.

They put to death this Son.

They thought He was defeated.

But this was our greatest victory.

Victory over sin and death which had enslaved us all.

Risen from the grave with an indestructible life.

This is worthy of our memory.

Every time we come to worship we are to remember.

Every time we celebrate the Lord’s Supper it is the proclamation of what God has done with Christ.

Do we desire that our children would know this?

Do we desire that they would be fully convinced of their sin and of Christ for their salvation?

It’s not enough that they would have some vague notion of God and decency.

They need to be told of what Christ has done.

They need more than a vague notion that Jesus loves them.

They need to learn to rest in the salvation that He alone provides.

They need to know more than being decent, nice, and hard-working people.

They need to know of a Christ Who died to save sinners.

They need to know that Christ is the way, the truth, and the life and that nobody comes to the Father except through Him.

Decency will not save them or us.

Being nice will not save them or us.

They need to be convinced that laying hold of Christ supplies all their needs.

It is our duty.

It is our joy to tell of the things that Christ has done.

And then we leave it to Christ.

Because the zeal we have that our children would know is a reflection of what we think is really true.

Is it really the case, for you and me, that the most important thing in this life is making a good wage and being decent to people.

I’m not asking if these are good things.  They are things we ought to do.

But is that our aim?

Is that what we invest our time and energy upon?

Is that what we are preaching to our kids by our lives and our priorities?

Are we opening up the Scriptures, are we praying for mercy, are we looking alone to Christ because He alone has the words of eternal life.

Forsaking all others, are we content to have Christ and Christ alone as our most important pursuit?

God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

The Church as Christ’s glorious Bride.

The communion of the Saints.

This is the air we ought to be breathing.

These are the things we need to know.

This is what we need to remember and pass on to our children.

Because we desire for them and for the generations to come that they would remember what Christ has done.

Let us pray.


[i] Excerpts throughout quoted from