The Book of Psalms

Friday: A Sermon from Israel’s History


Theme: Every Spiritual Blessing Given
In this week’s lessons we see the importance of remembering all the blessings that God has given to us.
Scripture: Psalm 78:1-72
At the end of stanza five there are two verses that bring the people to the borders of the Promised Land and even into it, which causes some writers to join these verses to stanza six. The actual arrangement does not make much difference. What matters is that in stanza six the rebellion of the people once they are in the land reached even worse levels than when they were still in the desert. Their rebellion extended to idolatry (v. 58). The result is that God’s anger also reached new heights, so that the northern kingdom of Israel, led by Ephraim, was “rejected… completely” (v. 59), the Ark of the Covenant was allowed to go into captivity to the Philistines, and many of the young men of the people were killed.1
This is why I said earlier that the second half of the psalm is not just a repetition of part one. It repeats the same great themes, but the themes intensify. On the one hand, ingratitude and rebellion lead to outright apostasy. On the other, the anger of God leads to the rejection of the northern kingdom. It is always that way. One sin leads to another, hearts harden, and the end is death and damnation.
But there is good news, too, and this is where the final stanza and the psalm itself end (vv. 65-72). We have seen that the anger of God builds against entrenched human sin. But his mercy does not end. We saw this at the end of stanza four (vv. 38, 39). Here the last stanza is given to it.
One commentator calls this “a new beginning,” but it is new only in the sense that there are always new beginnings with God. Ephraim is rejected, but here Judah is chosen. Shiloh is abandoned, but the Ark is brought to Mount Zion. Asaph’s point is that it was entirely of grace that God chose Judah and elevated its shepherd boy David to be a great king.2 The people did not deserve this, any more than they deserved God’s other blessings. But the fact that they received such mercies multiplied their obligations to serve God. It is the same for us, only our mercies are even greater than those experienced by Israel since in Jesus Christ we have been given “every spiritual blessing” (Eph. 1:3). We deserve nothing, yet we have received everything. Don’t forget it! Remember God’s blessings. Remember his mercy. And remember to tell the next generation, too.
1The tabernacle had been at Shiloh during the whole period of the Judges (see Josh. 18:10; Judges 18:31; 1 Sam. 4:3), but God rejected Shiloh when the Ark was given into the hands of the Philistines (1 Sam. 4:1-22), and it was never brought back. Instead, it was taken to Kiriath Jearim, to the house of a man named Abinadab (1 Sam. 6:21-7:1). The Tabernacle itself was removed first to Nob (1 Sam. 21) and afterwards probably to Gibeon (1 Kings 3:4). It was David who finally brought the Ark to Jerusalem (2 Sam. 6:1-19).
2There is a significant link here with Psalm 77. Psalm 77 ended with God pastoring his flock by the hands of Moses and Aaron. Psalm 78 ends with God pastoring his flock by the hand of David. So we have two pastoral psalms, though in the first the psalmist is not aware of this until near the end.
Study Questions:

How far did the rebellion of the people of this psalm go? How did God respond?
Describe the extent of God’s mercy.
What accompanies increased mercy from God?

Application: List mercies you have received from God. What obligations to him do you have as a result of those mercies?
For Further Study: In the Psalms we not only see how God has been at work in the lives of his people in the past, but we also learn that he is at work in our lives as well. Order your copy of James Boice’s three-volume study and take 25% off the regular price.

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