April 30: Psalm 78

April 30: Psalm 78

Instruction and warning from remembering God’s past acts

Common meter double 86.86 D

This is a very long psalm, so you might want to use several tunes for different sections as you sing through it. The process of singing through the entire psalm is very powerful—be patient to do it! Possibilities of tunes are: Morning Song (p. 30), Langloffan (p. 69), Kingsfold (p. 60) for sections with a “minor” feel; Ellacombe (p.130) (Hosanna, Loud Hosanna), Forest Green (p. 70) (I Sing the Mighty Power of God) or even Materna (O Beautiful, for Spacious Skies) for a “major” feel.

O ye my people, to my law attentively give ear;

The words that from my mouth proceed incline yourselves to hear.

My mouth shall speak a parable, the sayings dark of old,

Which we have listened to and known as by our fathers told.

We will not hide them from their sons but tell the race to come

Jehovah’s praises and His strength, the wonders He has done.

His word He unto Jacob gave, His law to Is-ra-el,

And bade our fathers teach their sons the coming race to tell.

That children yet unborn might know and their descendants lead

To trust in God, recall God’s works, and His commandments heed,

And not be like their fathers were, a race of stubborn mood,

Which never would prepare its heart nor keep its faith with God.

The sons of E-phra-im were armed; for bows they did not lack;

But when the day of battle came, fainthearted they turned back.

They did not keep God’s covenant, nor walk in His commands.

His wonders shown them they forgot, the deeds done by His hands.

Great miracles He brought to pass before their fathers’ sight;

In Egypt’s land, in Zoan’s field He showed His wondrous might.

He split the sea to let them pass; the waters stood aside;

By day He led them with a cloud; all night a flame was guide.

He split the rocks and gave them drink, as from great deeps below;

He from the rock brought running streams, like floods made waters flow.

Yet in the desert still they sinned, provoking the most High;

For in their heart they tested God, urged Him their lust supply.

They spoke against their God; they said, “Can even God provide

A table in the wilderness that we may be supplied?

Behold, He struck the rock and out gushed streams of water sweet;

But can He give His people bread and send them flesh to eat?”

Because the Lord heard this, His wrath was kindled into flame;

On Jacob, and on Is-ra-el His indignation came.

For they did not believe in God nor trust His saving love;

But still He opened heaven’s doors, commanded clouds above,

And rained His manna down on them; He gave them grain from heav’n;

And man partook of angels’ food, in His abundance giv’n.

In heav’n He made the east wind blow; the south wind felt His hand;

So He rained meat on them like dust, winged fowl like ocean’s sand.

He let them fall amid their camp, by tents on every side.

And so they ate till they were filled; their greed He satisfied.

They craved still more, mouths filled with food; God’s wrath then on them fell

And killed their stout ones and subdued choice men of Is-ra-el.

Yet still they sinned, they disbelieved His wonders in the way;

So in a breath He closed their days, their years in deep dismay.

But when He killed them, they desired to seek Him eagerly;

So they returned and searched for God with sense of urgency.

They then remembered God to be their rock eternally,

And knew that only God Most High could their redeemer be.

But they enticed Him with their mouth, and with their tongue they lied;

Their heart was not sincere toward Him; His cov’nant they denied.

But he forgave iniquity in mercy, did not slay,

Aroused not all His wrath, but oft His anger turned away.

Thus He remembered they were flesh, that they were only men,

A breath that swiftly goes away and never comes again.

How oft rebelled they in the wilds, grieved Him ‘neath desert sun!

They often tested God, brought pain on Isr’el’s Holy One.

For they remembered not His hand, nor kept in mind the day

When He in power redeemed from their adversary’s sway.

How He in Egypt wonders did and signs in Zoan’s field;

He turned their rivers into blood; their streams no drink would yield.

He sent de-vour-ing swarms of flies, and frogs their land to spoil;

To grasshoppers He gave their crops, to locusts all their toil.

He killed their tender vines with hail, their sycamores with frost;

He smote their flocks with thunderbolts; in hail their herds were lost.

His heat of anger, fury, woe, and indignation burned;

All these upon them He as His destroying angels turned.

He for His anger smoothed a path, spared not their soul from death;

But as a prey to pestilence He gave away their breath.

And over Egypt’s land He smote their firstborn sons, their pride,

Until in all the tents of Ham their chief of strength had died.

But His own people forth like sheep He brought with guiding hand,

And led His people like a flock across the desert land.

He led them safely, that no fear among them might be found,

But in the overwhelming sea their enemies were drowned.

He brought them through the boundary into His holy land,

This very mountain which He had possessed by His right hand.

Before them He drove nations out, gave them inheritance

By measured lot, caused Isr’el’s tribes to dwell within their tents.

And yet they tempted God Most High, rebelled against His will;

The testimonies He proclaimed they disregarded still.

They like their fathers backward turned in treachery and pride;

Like shafts from a deceitful bow they all did turn aside.

With their high places they to wrath provoked Him constantly;

And with their graven images aroused His jealousy.

God heard, and in His anger great rejected Isr’el then;

The tent at Shiloh He forsook where He had dwelt with men.

So He delivered up His strength into captivity,

His glory gave into the hand of His proud enemy.

And He His people to the sword delivered to be killed.

Against His own inheritance with anger He was filled.

Their young men were devoured by fire; their maidens were unwed;

And when their priests fell by the sword no tears their widows shed.

The Lord awoke as from a sleep, like warrior cheered by wine;

He drove His adversaries back, made their reproach a sign.

Then Joseph’s tent rejected He, on Ephraim would not count;

But He the tribe of Judah chose, for He loved Zion’s Mount.

And there exalted like the heights He built His sanctu’ry,

And like the earth He founded it for all eternity.

He for His servant David chose, took him from guarding sheep,

Brought him from where the ewes and lambs it was his task to keep.

That He might shepherd Jacob then and lead His people well,

Watch over His inheritance, His chosen Is-ra-el.

So with integrity of heart them faithfully he fed,

And with King David’s skillful hands He guided as he led.

O ye my people, to my law attentively give ear;

The words that from my mouth proceed incline yourselves to hear.

Just as the early Christians saw the Passover and other events associated with the Exodus of the Old Testament as types and foreshadowings of the salvation brought by Jesus, so they interpreted the forty years of the Israelites’ wandering in the desert as representing their own pilgrimage to the true Promised Land. Thus, the passage through the Red Sea became a symbol of Baptism, the miraculous manna was a foreshadowing of the Eucharist, and so forth. In particular did they regard the various temptations experienced by the Israelites in the desert as typical of the sorts of temptations to be faced by Christians. This deep Christian persuasion of the true significance of the desert pilgrimage serves to make the books of Exodus and Numbers necessary and very useful reading for serious Christians. Paul demonstrates this in 1 Cor. 10:1-13. For him, the entire story of the Israelites in the desert is a great moral lesson for Christians: “now all these things happened to them as examples, and they were written for our admonition, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” Another New Testament text illustrating this theme is even longer, filling chapters 3 and 4 of Hebrews. Here, as in 1 Corinthians, the story of the desert pilgrimage is remembered as a moral warning for those in Christ. Psalm 78, one of the longer psalms, is largely devoted to the same theme, which provides its proper interpretation. This psalm, which is a kind of poetic summary of the Books of Exodus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, and even some of Joshua, Judges and 1 Samuel, concentrates on the Chosen People’s constant infidelity and rebellion, but especially during the desert pilgrimage. Psalm 78 has long served as a sort of meditative compendium of the whole account. Its accent falls on exactly those same moral warnings that we saw in 1 Corinthians and Hebrews—the people’s failure to take heed to what they had already beheld of God’s deliverance and His sustained care for them. The story in this psalm is our own story. So we carefully ponder it and take warning. (Reardon, p. 153-154)

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