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A SLICE FROM PSALM 78 or “HOW OFTEN THEY REBELLED . . . AND GRIEVED HIM”
by Philip Owen

A thorough exposition of Psalm Seventy-Eight, written by Asaph, might easily run to several hundred pages.  Like the Book of Judges, it recounts Israel’s repeated lapses into sin and God’s often severe chastening of them, but with special notice of His great longsuffering, compassion, and love for a people who failed to reciprocate those virtues.  A slice out of the middle of the psalm will serve to give us a taste of the whole.

Chastening is often the essential precursor to revival.  “When He killed them, then they sought Him, and returned and searched diligently for God; and they remembered that God was their rock, and the Most High God their Redeemer” (vv. 34, 35).  “When He killed them”—what a way to begin!  But it serves to remind us that God judges sin and that He does so as severely as necessary and without apology.  Though He loved Israel dearly, if need be, He would chasten them even to the point of taking the lives of hundreds or even thousands in order to turn their hearts from sin.  There is nothing like a trial from the hand of God to get His child’s attention.  But note what it was that they forgot—not that He was stern and severe to punish, but that He was their “Rock” and their “Redeemer.”  They had chosen to forget the goodness of God, the fact that He had saved them, secured them, protected them, and provided for them.  But in their affliction, they remembered, they returned, and they sought Him diligently.

Man is by nature fickle, unthankful, and duplicitous.  “But they deceived Him with their mouth and lied to Him with their tongue.  For their heart was not steadfast toward Him, nor were they faithful in His covenant” (vv. 36, 37).  For some time after His chastening, Israel gave lip service to the Lord.  But no sooner had He stayed His hand of chastening and returned to blessing them than they forsook Him.  Their hearts were not given to Him but to their own way, and they disregarded the covenant that it had been their blessed privilege, exclusively of all people on the earth, to receive from the Lord.

God is by nature compassionate, forgiving, and longsuffering.  “But He, being compassionate, forgave their iniquity and did not destroy them; and often He restrained His anger and did not arouse His wrath.  Thus He remembered that they were but flesh, a wind that passes and does not return” (vv. 38, 39).  They little knew the depths of their sin, realizing even less the great mercy God was showing them repeatedly.  They were blissfully ignorant of the fact that their Rock and Redeemer had “often” restrained His wrath toward them.  Sin upon sin beat upon their hearts, hardening their consciences to the point that they could not recognize the heinousness of their offenses against God nor the magnitude of His mercy toward them.

Only the grace of God can deliver man from his incorrigible sin.  “How often they rebelled against Him in the wilderness and grieved Him in the desert!  Again and again they tempted God, and pained the Holy One of Israel.  They did not remember His power, the day when He redeemed them from the adversary [Egypt]” (vv. 40-42).  The recipients of miraculous deliverance and the beneficiaries of miraculous daily provision, they would not be faithful to the Lord, they would not be thankful, and they would not love and serve Him.  They did not appreciate that they were wholly dependent on Him for everything—particularly their redemption.  This is a sad but appropriate place to stop.  May it serve as a reminder to us that we are no different from Israel—frequently sinning, failing to recognize the depths of our sin, becoming unthankful, not appreciating our Lord’s constant provision and care for us as He extends us mercy upon mercy.  But unlike Israel, may we be drawn by the bands of love and not have to be compelled by the stripes of chastening.

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