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Summary

Chapter Summaries

Psalms Psalm 78 Summary

Verses 1-8

NRSV
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 ancestors have told us.
We will not hide them from their children; we will tell to the coming generation the glorious deeds of the Lord, and his might, and the wonders that he has done.
He established a decree in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our ancestors to teach to their children;
that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and rise up 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 ancestors, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.

KJV
Give ear, O my people, to my law: incline your ears to the words of my mouth.
I will open my mouth in a parable: I will utter dark sayings of old:
Which we have heard and known, and our fathers have told us.
We will not hide them from their children, shewing to the generation to come the praises of the Lord, and his strength, and his wonderful works that he hath done.
For he established a testimony in Jacob, and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers, that they should make them known to their children:
That the generation to come might know them, even the children which should be born; who should arise and declare them to their children:
That they might set their hope in God, and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments:
And might not be as their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation; a generation that set not their heart aright, and whose spirit was not steadfast with God.

  • Rehash time.
  • One of the main goals of any community song, piece of art, or poem is to create a cultural narrative that can stand the test of time. Because Exodus was huge for the Israelites, they wanted to turn it into something more…pithy. (Yeah, 72 verses isn't that pithy—we know.)
  • Either way, the writers have a sale they need to make, and Exodus is a long book. Condensing it into a memorable, sing-able poem is an essential project.
  • The beginning of the psalm discusses the community's need for cultural remembrance; an appeal to old situations to help contextualize new ones. It's like when politicians talk about current wars in terms of Vietnam.
  • Generational memory is a huge deal here. How often do we hear older people talk about "the values of their generation"? We'll be doing it, too, once we get there.

Verses 9-72

NRSV
The Ephraimites, armed with the bow, turned back on the day of battle.
They did not keep God's covenant, but refused to walk according to his law.
They forgot what he had done, and the miracles that he had shown them.
In the sight of their ancestors he worked marvels in the land of Egypt, in the fields of Zoan.
He divided the sea and let them pass through it, and made the waters stand like a heap.
In the daytime he led them with a cloud, and all night long with a fiery light.
He split rocks open in the wilderness, and gave them drink abundantly as from the deep.
He made streams come out of the rock, and caused waters to flow down like rivers.
Yet they sinned still more against him, rebelling against the Most High in the desert.
They tested God in their heart by demanding the food they craved.
They spoke against God, saying, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness?
Even though he struck the rock so that water gushed out and torrents overflowed, can he also give bread, or provide meat for his people?"
Therefore, when the Lord heard, he was full of rage; a fire was kindled against Jacob, his anger mounted against Israel,
because they had no faith in God, and did not trust his saving power.
Yet he commanded the skies above, and opened the doors of heaven;
he rained down on them manna to eat, and gave them the grain of heaven.
Mortals ate of the bread of angels; he sent them food in abundance.
He caused the east wind to blow in the heavens, and by his power he led out the south wind;
he rained flesh upon them like dust, winged birds like the sand of the seas;
he let them fall within their camp, all around their dwellings.
And they ate and were well filled, for he gave them what they craved.
But before they had satisfied their craving, while the food was still in their mouths,
the anger of God rose against them and he killed the strongest of them, and laid low the flower of Israel.
In spite of all this they still sinned; they did not believe in his wonders.
So he made their days vanish like a breath, and their years in terror.
When he killed them, they sought for him; they repented and sought God earnestly.
They remembered that God was their rock, the Most High God their redeemer.
But they flattered him with their mouths; they lied to him with their tongues.
Their heart was not steadfast toward him; they were not true to his covenant.
Yet he, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity, and did not destroy them; often he restrained his anger, and did not stir up all his wrath.
He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not come again.
How often they rebelled against him in the wilderness and grieved him in the desert!
They tested God again and again, and provoked the Holy One of Israel.
They did not keep in mind his power, or the day when he redeemed them from the foe;
when he displayed his signs in Egypt, and his miracles in the fields of Zoan.
He turned their rivers to blood, so that they could not drink of their streams.
He sent among them swarms of flies, which devoured them, and frogs, which destroyed them.
He gave their crops to the caterpillar, and the fruit of their labor to the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycamores with frost.
He gave over their cattle to the hail, and their flocks to thunderbolts.
He let loose on them his fierce anger, wrath, indignation, and distress, a company of destroying angels.
He made a path for his anger; he did not spare them from death, but gave their lives over to the plague.
He struck all the firstborn in Egypt, the first issue of their strength in the tents of Ham.
Then he led out his people like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
He led them in safety, so that they were not afraid; but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
And he brought them to his holy hill, to the mountain that his right hand had won.
He drove out nations before them; he apportioned them for a possession and settled the tribes of Israel in their tents.
Yet they tested the Most High God, and rebelled against him. They did not observe his decrees,
but turned away and were faithless like their ancestors; they twisted like a treacherous bow.
For they provoked him to anger with their high places; they moved him to jealousy with their idols.
When God heard, he was full of wrath, and he utterly rejected Israel.
He abandoned his dwelling at Shiloh, the tent where he dwelt among mortals,
and delivered his power to captivity, his glory to the hand of the foe.
He gave his people to the sword, and vented his wrath on his heritage.
Fire devoured their young men, and their girls had no marriage song.
Their priests fell by the sword, and their widows made no lamentation.
Then the Lord awoke as from sleep, like a warrior shouting because of wine.
He put his adversaries to rout; he put them to everlasting disgrace.
He rejected the tent of Joseph, he did not choose the tribe of Ephraim;
but he chose the tribe of Judah, Mount Zion, which he loves.
He built his sanctuary like the high heavens, like the earth, which he has founded forever.
He chose his servant David, and took him from the sheepfolds;
from tending the nursing ewes he brought him to be the shepherd of his people Jacob, of Israel, his inheritance.
With upright heart he tended them, and guided them with skillful hand.

KJV
The children of Ephraim, being armed, and carrying bows, turned back in the day of battle.
They kept not the covenant of God, and refused to walk in his law;
And forgat his works, and his wonders that he had shewed them.
Marvellous things did he in the sight of their fathers, in the land of Egypt, in the field of Zoan.
He divided the sea, and caused them to pass through; and he made the waters to stand as an heap.
In the daytime also he led them with a cloud, and all the night with a light of fire.
He clave the rocks in the wilderness, and gave them drink as out of the great depths.
He brought streams also out of the rock, and caused waters to run down like rivers.
And they sinned yet more against him by provoking the most High in the wilderness.
And they tempted God in their heart by asking meat for their lust.
Yea, they spake against God; they said, Can God furnish a table in the wilderness?
Behold, he smote the rock, that the waters gushed out, and the streams overflowed; can he give bread also? can he provide flesh for his people?
Therefore the Lord heard this, and was wroth: so a fire was kindled against Jacob, and anger also came up against Israel;
Because they believed not in God, and trusted not in his salvation:
Though he had commanded the clouds from above, and opened the doors of heaven,
And had rained down manna upon them to eat, and had given them of the corn of heaven.
Man did eat angels food: he sent them meat to the full.
He caused an east wind to blow in the heaven: and by his power he brought in the south wind.
He rained flesh also upon them as dust, and feathered fowls like as the sand of the sea:
And he let it fall in the midst of their camp, round about their habitations.
So they did eat, and were well filled: for he gave them their own desire;
They were not estranged from their lust. But while their meat was yet in their mouths,
The wrath of God came upon them, and slew the fattest of them, and smote down the chosen men of Israel.
For all this they sinned still, and believed not for his wondrous works.
Therefore their days did he consume in vanity, and their years in trouble.
When he slew them, then they sought him: and they returned and enquired early after God.
And they remembered that God was their rock, and the high God their redeemer.
Nevertheless they did flatter him with their mouth, and they lied unto him with their tongues.
For their heart was not right with him, neither were they stedfast in his covenant.
But he, being full of compassion, forgave their iniquity, and destroyed them not: yea, many a time turned he his anger away, and did not stir up all his wrath.
For he remembered that they were but flesh; a wind that passeth away, and cometh not again.
How oft did they provoke him in the wilderness, and grieve him in the desert!
Yea, they turned back and tempted God, and limited the Holy One of Israel.
They remembered not his hand, nor the day when he delivered them from the enemy.
How he had wrought his signs in Egypt, and his wonders in the field of Zoan.
And had turned their rivers into blood; and their floods, that they could not drink.
He sent divers sorts of flies among them, which devoured them; and frogs, which destroyed them.
He gave also their increase unto the caterpiller, and their labour unto the locust.
He destroyed their vines with hail, and their sycomore trees with frost.
He gave up their cattle also to the hail, and their flocks to hot thunderbolts.
He cast upon them the fierceness of his anger, wrath, and indignation, and trouble, by sending evil angels among them.
He made a way to his anger; he spared not their soul from death, but gave their life over to the pestilence;
And smote all the firstborn in Egypt; the chief of their strength in the tabernacles of Ham:
But made his own people to go forth like sheep, and guided them in the wilderness like a flock.
And he led them on safely, so that they feared not: but the sea overwhelmed their enemies.
And he brought them to the border of his sanctuary, even to this mountain, which his right hand had purchased.
He cast out the heathen also before them, and divided them an inheritance by line, and made the tribes of Israel to dwell in their tents.
Yet they tempted and provoked the most high God, and kept not his testimonies:
But turned back, and dealt unfaithfully like their fathers: they were turned aside like a deceitful bow.
For they provoked him to anger with their high places, and moved him to jealousy with their graven images.
When God heard this, he was wroth, and greatly abhorred Israel:
So that he forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among men;
And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemys hand.
He gave his people over also unto the sword; and was wroth with his inheritance.
The fire consumed their young men; and their maidens were not given to marriage.
Their priests fell by the sword; and their widows made no lamentation.
Then the Lord awaked as one out of sleep, and like a mighty man that shouteth by reason of wine.
And he smote his enemies in the hinder parts: he put them to a perpetual reproach.
Moreover he refused the tabernacle of Joseph, and chose not the tribe of Ephraim:
But chose the tribe of Judah, the mount Zion which he loved.
And he built his sanctuary like high palaces, like the earth which he hath established for ever.
He chose David also his servant, and took him from the sheepfolds:
From following the ewes great with young he brought him to feed Jacob his people, and Israel his inheritance.
So he fed them according to the integrity of his heart; and guided them by the skilfulness of his hands.

  • Whoa there, fellas. Why'd we give you sixty-three verses? Don't worry—this is all rehash; it's the whole narrative of Exodus squeezed into one. And since you've already read that (right?), it should be easy-peasy.
  • Some of this should sound familiar: the ten plagues, the plight of the Israelites, all that jazz.
  • The author is not above naming names; the Ephraimites, an Israelite tribe, are cited here as having walked out on God and on their brothers. 
  • In addition to more specific politics, this psalm discusses common objections to God's power.
  • Example? The enemies of Israel ask, "Can God spread a table in the wilderness"? No problem—the psalm comes back by discussing miracles that God (and Moses) have performed throughout the Bible. All this recap adds continuity to the stories that are important to the culture. Think about how often we still hear American fables like Paul Bunyan.
  • In 78:63, the author gives us some specifics on what happens when your community is annihilated. The young men are all burned, and the women lose their ability to have children. Basically, the community literally loses all chances it has at longevity. 
  • Also check out 78:65, where God awakens "like a warrior shouting because of wine." What does this teach us? First, that the writers of the Bible were no strangers to the age-old motif of soldiers getting drunk. Second, that God may not be exactly what we thought. Think about how we saw him in Psalm 16—ever-present, right? But if God woke up, that implies that he was asleep…and probably unaware of people needing him. Curious, indeed.
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