The Book of Psalms

Thursday: A Sermon from Israel’s History


Theme: Remembering All That God Has Done
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
There is a sense in which the stanza of Psalm 78 beginning with verse 40 goes back to the beginning and thus starts to tell the story of Israel’s base ingratitude to God all over again, beginning with the exodus from Egypt and with the people’s failure to remember God’s miracles of redemption on their behalf. Some commentators outline the psalm around these two halves.1 In my judgment, the last half does not exactly repeat the first. But the fresh start is significant, for it is as if Asaph is acknowledging that God had done everything possible to win the people over. They had not responded. Thus, the only thing to do is to tell the entire story all over again, hoping that something about it might stick with them this second time.
Think back on what God has done. In stanza one, we were reminded that he had done miracles, but the people had forgotten them. In stanza two, we were reminded that God provided for the people’s needs abundantly, but they had remained unsatisfied. In stanza three, we were reminded of God’s just judgments, but these only produced a false repentance. In fact, not even his mercy was effective. For in spite of his mercy, the people “often … rebelled against him in the desert and grieved him in the wasteland” (v. 40)! Miracles! Provision! Judgment! Mercy! Four great actions. Yet in spite of them, the outcome was rebellion and unbelief.
How is this possible? The answer is in verse 42, which is perhaps the most important verse in the psalm. It says, “They did not remember his power the day he redeemed them from the oppressor.”
That is it! That is it exactly! They had forgotten God’s redemption (v. 42). They had forgotten what God did on their behalf. Do we? I am sure we do, or we would not sin as grievously or as often as we do. Commentator Derek Kidner says on this point, “If redemption itself is forgotten…faith and love will not last long.”2 He means that if we forget what it cost God to redeem us from our sins through Jesus’ death, we will not long trust him in life’s trials or love him enough to obey him in times of temptation.
What is the cure? Certainly, we should be getting it by this time. It is to remember, which is what this psalm is about. We need to remember all that God has done.
What Asaph calls to mind particularly in this section are the plagues God brought on the Egyptians, surely one of the greatest single displays of God’s power and judgments in history. He does not list all the plagues, but he gives a good description of at least six of them. The psalm omits the plague of gnats, the disease inflicted on the livestock, the boils visited on the people, and the days of darkness. There is no discernable reason either for the choice of the six judgments or the omission of the other four. The plagues that are mentioned build forcefully toward the last terrible judgment of God against the firstborn, which is then placed in sharp and beautiful contrast to the way God led his people out of Egypt like a flock of timid but safe and trusting sheep.
1See J.J. Stewart Perowne, Commentary on the Psalms, 2 vols. in 1, vol. 2, p. 58; and Marvin E. Tate, Word Biblical Commentary, vol. 20 (Dallas: Word, 1990), pp. 287, 288.
2Derek Kidner, Psalms 73-150: A Commentary on Books III-v of the Psalms (Leicester, England, and Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity, 1975), p. 284.
Study Questions:

Why is having a fresh start significant for Asaph?
List God’s actions and the people’s response that is seen in the first half of Psalm 78.
What is the primary error committed by the Israelites in verse 42?
Why does the psalmist recall the plagues?

Reflection: What has God done on your behalf? How can you remember all that God has done for you?

Study Questions
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