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.
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