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Psalms 78:1-72

Context
Psalm 78 1 

A well-written song 2  by Asaph.

78:1 Pay attention, my people, to my instruction!

Listen to the words I speak! 3 

78:2 I will sing a song that imparts wisdom;

I will make insightful observations about the past. 4 

78:3 What we have heard and learned 5 

that which our ancestors 6  have told us –

78:4 we will not hide from their 7  descendants.

We will tell the next generation

about the Lord’s praiseworthy acts, 8 

about his strength and the amazing things he has done.

78:5 He established a rule 9  in Jacob;

he set up a law in Israel.

He commanded our ancestors

to make his deeds known to their descendants, 10 

78:6 so that the next generation, children yet to be born,

might know about them.

They will grow up and tell their descendants about them. 11 

78:7 Then they will place their confidence in God.

They will not forget the works of God,

and they will obey 12  his commands.

78:8 Then they will not be like their ancestors,

who were a stubborn and rebellious generation,

a generation that was not committed

and faithful to God. 13 

78:9 The Ephraimites 14  were armed with bows, 15 

but they retreated in the day of battle. 16 

78:10 They did not keep their covenant with God, 17 

and they refused to obey 18  his law.

78:11 They forgot what he had done, 19 

the amazing things he had shown them.

78:12 He did amazing things in the sight of their ancestors,

in the land of Egypt, in the region of Zoan. 20 

78:13 He divided the sea and led them across it;

he made the water stand in a heap.

78:14 He led them with a cloud by day,

and with the light of a fire all night long.

78:15 He broke open rocks in the wilderness,

and gave them enough water to fill the depths of the sea. 21 

78:16 He caused streams to flow from the rock,

and made the water flow like rivers.

78:17 Yet they continued to sin against him,

and rebelled against the sovereign One 22  in the desert.

78:18 They willfully challenged God 23 

by asking for food to satisfy their appetite.

78:19 They insulted God, saying, 24 

“Is God really able to give us food 25  in the wilderness?

78:20 Yes, 26  he struck a rock and water flowed out,

streams gushed forth.

But can he also give us food?

Will he provide meat for his people?”

78:21 When 27  the Lord heard this, he was furious.

A fire broke out against Jacob,

and his anger flared up 28  against Israel,

78:22 because they did not have faith in God,

and did not trust his ability to deliver them. 29 

78:23 He gave a command to the clouds above,

and opened the doors in the sky.

78:24 He rained down manna for them to eat;

he gave them the grain of heaven. 30 

78:25 Man ate the food of the mighty ones. 31 

He sent them more than enough to eat. 32 

78:26 He brought the east wind through the sky,

and by his strength led forth the south wind.

78:27 He rained down meat on them like dust,

birds as numerous as the sand on the seashores. 33 

78:28 He caused them to fall right in the middle of their camp,

all around their homes.

78:29 They ate until they were stuffed; 34 

he gave them what they desired.

78:30 They were not yet filled up, 35 

their food was still in their mouths,

78:31 when the anger of God flared up against them.

He killed some of the strongest of them;

he brought the young men of Israel to their knees.

78:32 Despite all this, they continued to sin,

and did not trust him to do amazing things. 36 

78:33 So he caused them to die unsatisfied 37 

and filled with terror. 38 

78:34 When he struck them down, 39  they sought his favor; 40 

they turned back and longed for God.

78:35 They remembered that God was their protector, 41 

and that the sovereign God was their deliverer. 42 

78:36 But they deceived him with their words, 43 

and lied to him. 44 

78:37 They were not really committed to him, 45 

and they were unfaithful to his covenant.

78:38 Yet he is compassionate.

He forgives sin and does not destroy.

He often holds back his anger,

and does not stir up his fury. 46 

78:39 He remembered 47  that they were made of flesh,

and were like a wind that blows past and does not return. 48 

78:40 How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness,

and insulted him 49  in the desert!

78:41 They again challenged God, 50 

and offended 51  the Holy One of Israel. 52 

78:42 They did not remember what he had done, 53 

how he delivered them from the enemy, 54 

78:43 when he performed his awesome deeds 55  in Egypt,

and his acts of judgment 56  in the region of Zoan.

78:44 He turned their rivers into blood,

and they could not drink from their streams.

78:45 He sent swarms of biting insects against them, 57 

as well as frogs that overran their land. 58 

78:46 He gave their crops to the grasshopper,

the fruit of their labor to the locust.

78:47 He destroyed their vines with hail,

and their sycamore-fig trees with driving rain.

78:48 He rained hail down on their cattle, 59 

and hurled lightning bolts down on their livestock. 60 

78:49 His raging anger lashed out against them, 61 

He sent fury, rage, and trouble

as messengers who bring disaster. 62 

78:50 He sent his anger in full force; 63 

he did not spare them from death;

he handed their lives over to destruction. 64 

78:51 He struck down all the firstborn in Egypt,

the firstfruits of their reproductive power 65  in the tents of Ham.

78:52 Yet he brought out his people like sheep;

he led them through the wilderness like a flock.

78:53 He guided them safely along,

while the sea covered their enemies.

78:54 He brought them to the border of his holy land,

to this mountainous land 66  which his right hand 67  acquired.

78:55 He drove the nations out from before them;

he assigned them their tribal allotments 68 

and allowed the tribes of Israel to settle down. 69 

78:56 Yet they challenged and defied 70  the sovereign God, 71 

and did not obey 72  his commands. 73 

78:57 They were unfaithful 74  and acted as treacherously as 75  their ancestors;

they were as unreliable as a malfunctioning bow. 76 

78:58 They made him angry with their pagan shrines, 77 

and made him jealous with their idols.

78:59 God heard and was angry;

he completely rejected Israel.

78:60 He abandoned 78  the sanctuary at Shiloh,

the tent where he lived among men.

78:61 He allowed the symbol of his strong presence to be captured; 79 

he gave the symbol of his splendor 80  into the hand of the enemy. 81 

78:62 He delivered his people over to the sword,

and was angry with his chosen nation. 82 

78:63 Fire consumed their 83  young men,

and their 84  virgins remained unmarried. 85 

78:64 Their 86  priests fell by the sword,

but their 87  widows did not weep. 88 

78:65 But then the Lord awoke from his sleep; 89 

he was like a warrior in a drunken rage. 90 

78:66 He drove his enemies back;

he made them a permanent target for insults. 91 

78:67 He rejected the tent of Joseph;

he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim.

78:68 He chose the tribe of Judah,

and Mount Zion, which he loves.

78:69 He made his sanctuary as enduring as the heavens above; 92 

as secure as the earth, which he established permanently. 93 

78:70 He chose David, his servant,

and took him from the sheepfolds.

78:71 He took him away from following the mother sheep, 94 

and made him the shepherd of Jacob, his people,

and of Israel, his chosen nation. 95 

78:72 David 96  cared for them with pure motives; 97 

he led them with skill. 98 

1 sn Psalm 78. The author of this lengthy didactic psalm rehearses Israel’s history. He praises God for his power, goodness and patience, but also reminds his audience that sin angers God and prompts his judgment. In the conclusion to the psalm the author elevates Jerusalem as God’s chosen city and David as his chosen king.

2 tn The meaning of the Hebrew term מַשְׂכִּיל (maskil) is uncertain. See the note on the phrase “well-written song” in the superscription of Ps 74.

3 tn Heb “Turn your ear to the words of my mouth.”

4 tn Heb “I will open with a wise saying my mouth, I will utter insightful sayings from long ago.” Elsewhere the Hebrew word pair חִידָה+מָשָׁל (mashal + khidah) refers to a taunt song (Hab 2:6), a parable (Ezek 17:2), proverbial sayings (Prov 1:6), and an insightful song that reflects on the mortality of humankind and the ultimate inability of riches to prevent death (Ps 49:4).

5 tn Or “known.”

6 tn Heb “fathers” (also in vv. 5, 8, 12, 57).

7 tn The pronominal suffix refers back to the “fathers” (“our ancestors,” v. 3).

8 tn Heb “to a following generation telling the praises of the Lord.” “Praises” stand by metonymy for the mighty acts that prompt worship. Cf. Ps 9:14.

9 tn The Hebrew noun עֵדוּת (’edut) refers here to God’s command that the older generation teach their children about God’s mighty deeds in the nation’s history (see Exod 10:2; Deut 4:9; 6:20-25).

10 tn Heb “which he commanded our fathers to make them known to their sons.” The plural suffix “them” probably refers back to the Lord’s mighty deeds (see vv. 3-4).

11 tn Heb “in order that they might know, a following generation, sons [who] will be born, they will arise and will tell to their sons.”

12 tn Heb “keep.”

13 tn Heb “a generation that did not make firm its heart and whose spirit was not faithful with God.” The expression “make firm the heart” means “to be committed, devoted” (see 1 Sam 7:3).

14 tn Heb “the sons of Ephraim.” Ephraim probably stands here by synecdoche (part for whole) for the northern kingdom of Israel.

15 tn Heb “ones armed, shooters of bow.” It is possible that the term נוֹשְׁקֵי (noshÿqey, “ones armed [with]”) is an interpretive gloss for the rare רוֹמֵי (romey, “shooters of”; on the latter see BDB 941 s.v. I רָמָה). The phrase נוֹשְׁקֵי קֶשֶׁת (noshÿqey qeshet, “ones armed with a bow”) appears in 1 Chr 12:2; 2 Chr 17:17.

16 sn They retreated. This could refer to the northern tribes’ failure to conquer completely their allotted territory (see Judg 1), or it could refer generally to the typical consequence (military defeat) of their sin (see vv. 10-11).

17 tn Heb “the covenant of God.”

18 tn Heb “walk in.”

19 tn Heb “his deeds.”

20 sn The region of Zoan was located in the Egyptian delta, where the enslaved Israelites lived (see Num 13:22; Isa 19:11, 13; 30:4; Ezek 30:14).

21 tn Heb “and caused them to drink, like the depths, abundantly.”

22 tn Heb “rebelling [against] the Most High.”

23 tn Heb “and they tested God in their heart.” The “heart” is viewed here as the center of their volition.

24 tn Heb “they spoke against God, they said.”

25 tn Heb “to arrange a table [for food].”

26 tn Heb “look.”

27 tn Heb “therefore.”

28 tn Heb “and also anger went up.”

29 tn Heb “and they did not trust his deliverance.”

30 sn Manna was apparently shaped like a seed (Exod 16:31), perhaps explaining why it is here compared to grain.

31 sn Because of the reference to “heaven” in the preceding verse, it is likely that mighty ones refers here to the angels of heaven. The LXX translates “angels” here, as do a number of modern translations (NEB, NIV, NRSV).

32 tn Heb “provision he sent to them to satisfaction.”

33 tn Heb “and like the sand of the seas winged birds.”

34 tn Heb “and they ate and were very satisfied.”

35 tn Heb “they were not separated from their desire.”

36 tn Heb “and did not believe in his amazing deeds.”

37 tn Heb “and he ended in vanity their days.”

38 tn Heb “and their years in terror.”

39 tn Or “killed them,” that is, killed large numbers of them.

40 tn Heb “they sought him.”

41 tn Heb “my high rocky summit.”

42 tn Heb “and [that] God Most High [was] their redeemer.”

43 tn Heb “with their mouth.”

44 tn Heb “and with their tongue they lied to him.”

45 tn Heb “and their heart was not firm with him.”

46 tn One could translate v. 38 in the past tense (“he was compassionate…forgave sin and did not destroy…held back his anger, and did not stir up his fury”), but the imperfect verbal forms are probably best understood as generalizing. Verse 38 steps back briefly from the narrational summary of Israel’s history and lays the theological basis for v. 39, which focuses on God’s mercy toward sinful Israel.

47 tn The prefixed verbal form with vav (ו) consecutive signals a return to the narrative.

48 tn Heb “and he remembered that they [were] flesh, a wind [that] goes and does not return.”

49 tn Or “caused him pain.”

50 tn Heb “and they returned and tested God.” The Hebrew verb שׁוּב (shuv, “to return”) is used here in an adverbial sense to indicate that an earlier action was repeated.

51 tn Or “wounded, hurt.” The verb occurs only here in the OT.

52 sn The basic sense of the word “holy” is “set apart from that which is commonplace, special, unique.” The Lord’s holiness is first and foremost his transcendent sovereignty as the ruler of the world. He is “set apart” from the world over which he rules. At the same time his holiness encompasses his moral authority, which derives from his royal position. As king he has the right to dictate to his subjects how they are to live; indeed his very own character sets the standard for proper behavior. This expression is a common title for the Lord in the book of Isaiah.

53 tn Heb “his hand,” symbolizing his saving activity and strength, as the next line makes clear.

54 tn Heb “[the] day [in] which he ransomed them from [the] enemy.”

55 tn Or “signs” (see Ps 65:8).

56 tn Or “portents, omens” (see Ps 71:7). The Egyptian plagues are referred to here (see vv. 44-51).

57 tn Heb “and he sent an insect swarm against them and it devoured them.”

58 tn Heb “and a swarm of frogs and it destroyed them.”

59 tn Heb “and he turned over to the hail their cattle.”

60 tn Heb “and their livestock to the flames.” “Flames” here refer to the lightning bolts that accompanied the storm.

61 tn Heb “he sent against them the rage of his anger.” The phrase “rage of his anger” employs an appositional genitive. Synonyms are joined in a construct relationship to emphasize the single idea. For a detailed discussion of the grammatical point with numerous examples, see Y. Avishur, “Pairs of Synonymous Words in the Construct State (and in Appositional Hendiadys) in Biblical Hebrew,” Semitics 2 (1971): 17-81.

62 tn Heb “fury and indignation and trouble, a sending of messengers of disaster.”

63 tn Heb “he leveled a path for his anger.” There were no obstacles to impede its progress; it moved swiftly and destructively.

64 tn Or perhaps “[the] plague.”

65 tn Heb “the beginning of strength.” If retained, the plural form אוֹנִים (’onim, “strength”) probably indicates degree (“great strength”), but many ancient witnesses read “their strength,” which presupposes an emendation to אֹנָם (’onam; singular form of the noun with third masculine plural pronominal suffix).

66 tn Heb “this mountain.” The whole land of Canaan seems to be referred to here. In Exod 15:17 the promised land is called the “mountain of your [i.e., God’s] inheritance.”

67 tn The “right hand” here symbolizes God’s military strength (see v. 55).

68 tn Heb “he caused to fall [to] them with a measuring line an inheritance.”

69 tn Heb “and caused the tribes of Israel to settle down in their tents.”

70 tn Or “tested and rebelled against.”

71 tn Heb “God, the Most High.”

72 tn Or “keep.”

73 tn Heb “his testimonies” (see Ps 25:10).

74 tn Heb “they turned back.”

75 tn Or “acted treacherously like.”

76 tn Heb “they turned aside like a deceitful bow.”

77 tn Traditionally, “high places.”

78 tn Or “rejected.”

79 tn Heb “and he gave to captivity his strength.” The expression “his strength” refers metonymically to the ark of the covenant, which was housed in the tabernacle at Shiloh.

80 tn Heb “and his splendor into the hand of an enemy.” The expression “his splendor” also refers metonymically to the ark of the covenant.

81 sn Verses 60-61 refer to the Philistines’ capture of the ark in the days of Eli (1 Sam 4:1-11).

82 tn Heb “his inheritance.”

83 tn Heb “his.” The singular pronominal suffix is collective, referring back to God’s “people” (v. 62).

84 tn Heb “his.” The singular pronominal suffix is collective, referring back to God’s “people” (v. 62).

85 tn Heb “were not praised,” that is, in wedding songs. The young men died in masses, leaving no husbands for the young women.

86 tn Heb “his.” The singular pronominal suffix is collective, referring back to God’s “people” (v. 62).

87 tn Heb “his.” The singular pronominal suffix is collective, referring back to God’s “people” (v. 62).

88 sn Because of the invading army and the ensuing panic, the priests’ widows had no time to carry out the normal mourning rites.

89 tn Heb “and the master awoke like one sleeping.” The Lord’s apparent inactivity during the time of judgment is compared to sleep.

90 tn Heb “like a warrior overcome with wine.” The Hebrew verb רוּן (run, “overcome”) occurs only here in the OT. The phrase “overcome with wine” could picture a drunken warrior controlled by his emotions and passions (as in the present translation), or it could refer to a warrior who awakes from a drunken stupor.

91 tn Heb “a permanent reproach he made them.”

92 tc Heb “and he built like the exalting [ones] his sanctuary.” The phrase כְּמוֹ־רָמִים (kÿmo-ramim, “like the exalting [ones]”) is a poetic form of the comparative preposition followed by a participial form of the verb רוּם (rum, “be exalted”). The text should be emended to כִּמְרֹמִים (kimromim, “like the [heavenly] heights”). See Ps 148:1, where “heights” refers to the heavens above.

93 tn Heb “like the earth, [which] he established permanently.” The feminine singular suffix on the Hebrew verb יָסַד (yasad, “to establish”) refers to the grammatically feminine noun “earth.”

94 tn Heb “from after the ewes he brought him.”

95 tn Heb “to shepherd Jacob, his people, and Israel, his inheritance.”

96 tn Heb “He”; the referent (David, God’s chosen king, mentioned in v. 70) has been specified in the translation for clarity.

97 tn Heb “and he shepherded them according to the integrity of his heart.”

98 tn Heb “and with the understanding of his hands he led them.”



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