Recently at Abundant Life Church, we took five Sundays and worked our way through Psalm 78 to glean the lessons presented to us by the children of Israel. The beginning of that psalm instructs them to tell the coming generation of all the travels, travails, and yes, sins of their forefathers, so they “should not be like their fathers, a stubborn and rebellious generation, a generation whose heart was not steadfast, whose spirit was not faithful to God.” Since we are a part of that coming generation mentioned in the psalm, I wanted to take this issue of the Kernels of Truth and go over some of the lessons resident in the writing of Asaph that were inspired by the Holy Spirit for our behalf (1 Corinthians 10:11). I can’t spend a lot of time on any one of these lessons, as there are a lot of them. But here we go. It would probably serve you well if you went and got your Bible and read the entire psalm (78) before continuing.
From the beginning, we learned that we have the wherewithal to confront the enemy and circumstances of life. We need not be cowering in the face of adverse circumstances, because God has given us “everything we need pertaining to life and godliness.” Also, we should determine to keep God’s covenant and the way we see that is done is to obey His commands and instructions. Jesus said that if we love Him, we will obey His commands.
They were delivered and we have been delivered from the grip of the enemy by the miracle working hand of God. For them, it was the Red Sea; for us it is the red blood of Jesus Christ, shed on our behalf to make atonement for our sins. God will provide for you from unexpected sources. For the children of Israel, it was needed water coming out of a rock…yes out of a rock. I would certainly call that unexpected.
God led them with a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. He still leads you and me day and night. Consider these words.
Psalm 121:4 – “He who watches over Israel never slumbers or sleeps.“
Psalm 121:5 – “The LORD Himself watches over you! The LORD stands beside you as your protective shade.”
We see God’s chosen people challenged Him, and rather than judge or criticize them, we recognize we do the very same thing in our own way.
The people of God were instructed to remember that God is the Most High. We should do the same and never lose sight of the fact that our God and Savior is Most High over all and over everything. We shouldn’t seek to defy Him because there is no one higher than Him. Let us also guard our hearts against testing God’s limits.
Jeremiah 17:9 – “The human heart is the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked. Who really knows how bad it is?” NLT
They were attempting to put God to the test by questioning His abilities and character.
A very important lesson to notice is that we must embrace contentment instead of demanding what we crave. As human beings, we want what we want, don’t we? It is imperative if we desire a happy life in God that we accept life according to His terms. This is not because He is petty and immature, but since He is the Most High and He is our Creator, He knows how we best function. So His terms produce life, where our terms lead to frustration. We must remember His goodness, commitment, and provision towards us. If He provided water – He will provide whatever else it is that we need. We must trust His saving power.
Even still, in spite of their grumbling and complaining, God opened the windows of heaven and provided manna and quail for them to eat. Thus we recognize that we serve a merciful and longsuffering God. Note that He is not “forever suffering,” but longsuffering. There comes a point when He must make adjustments in us, using whatever circumstances He deems fit.
Then we watched as God in His sovereignty and watchfulness, slew some of their young men and strong men (take it up with Him). It was at this point (and not so much before) the psalmist tells us that “they sought Him.” So our lesson here is that we should seek God without the need of a calamity. Calamities have a way of creating temporary reformation. How many times have we neglected fellowshipping with God and praying to God until some seismic event (sickness, loss of property or relationship, bereavement, etc.) takes place in our lives? It’s like someone said about them taking prayer out of the schools, as long as teachers are giving tests, there will always be prayer in schools.
It says they “remembered that God was their Rock.” We often seek to undergird ourselves with outside and human efforts, but forget that our stability is due to God being our Rock. In a similar vein, He is our Most High Redeemer. There’s that “Most High” phrase again. In a world as such as we live, it is important to hold on to our God who is Most High over all the things that concern or worry us.
Later on we saw how the children of Israel offered lip-service to God, which the Scripture tells us, “was a lie.” In Isaiah God said,
Isaiah 29:13 – “…these people draw near with their mouths And honor Me with their lips, But have removed their hearts far from Me…”
We need to make sure that we are not doing the same, by allowing our lips to become disconnected from our hearts. It is always a heart issue with God. It is like the old axiom that says, “when it is all said and done, there is more said than done.” Because their hearts were not right with God, they could make a profession with their lips, but their heart remained unaffected. I believe this is what sometimes happens when we observe someone “professing faith” in Jesus Christ and for a while they seem to display characteristics of a follower of Jesus Christ. But in a little while, they have seemingly fallen to the wayside when the pressure of life is off them. While no one can determine the condition of someone’s heart, in so many cases it seems the profession of faith was simply lip-service and their hearts were not involved at all. So, in many cases, they did not fall to the wayside, because in their hearts they had never left the wayside. Let us maintain a steadfast heart toward God at all times and in every circumstance and life condition.
The psalm says they were not loyal to God and did not keep His covenant. Nevertheless, He was merciful to them and forgave their sins. It continues on by saying God did not destroy them all. Again, a merciful and longsuffering God. We can count on God’s mercy and compassion, regardless of how far off the mark we are. God describes His character to Moses in Exodus 34 this way.
o Gracious or full of grace
o Slow to anger
o Abounding in mercy
o Truth or faithfulness to the truth
o Covenant faithfulness or loyalty
o Forgives iniquity, transgression, & sin.
Remembering though, that part of God’s compassion is to allow whatever needs to be to come our way to guide us back on the straight and narrow.
In this psalm, God’s people are identified (as in other places) as the sheep of His pasture. And we see Him guiding them as a Shepherd into the Promised Land. The Scripture says they had an allotted inheritance and a fixed habitation and home. It reminds me of Psalm 16:6 which states,
“The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”
When God is arranging the lines and habitation of our lives, it is a pleasant one. Find contentment and satisfaction in the place in which God has planted you and established the lines of your boundaries.
When they entered the Promised Land by God’s directing hand, things did not change very much. We learn then to not allow God’s place in our lives to be occupied by alternatives…to not have any other gods. Whenever we provide for ourselves alternatives to God Himself, we are inviting trouble upon us.
We must embrace and desire God’s presence in our lives. God’s punishment to Israel was to remove any sign of His presence from them, including allowing the Ark of the Covenant to be captured by the Philistines. It is almost as if God was saying to them, “If you don’t want Me – you shall not have Me.” We never want to uninvite God from our lives by not allowing Him room.
Much like when they were in the wilderness, we see and learn that in the midst of our own straying God will still “wake up” and defend and protect us. He is not a temporary or temperamental God, but a faithful God even when we are not faithful. It appeared to the Israelites that after a significant season of inactivity, God “woke up” and chased back His enemies. How many times have we thought God has gone to sleep on us because we don’t see and immediate and obvious working of His hand? And yet, we can always look back and see Him working in our lives.
Another thing we see near the end of this psalm is that God’s love for us has nothing to do with our behavior (although our behavior is important), but everything to do with His character. He routed their enemies away from them, even though they certainly didn’t deserve it. Everything God does toward us is based on His own character of love.
Closing out the psalm, we see that He chose the tribe of Judah over the tribe of Joseph, fulfilling what had been prophesied in Genesis 49:10. They would be the caretakers for His presence and from Judah would come the Promise of God. Therefore, from the tribe of Judah, God chose a king…the verse says that God chose David. Aren’t you glad that He is doing the choosing and aren’t you glad there is choosing going on? God chose a shepherd of earthly sheep to shepherd His own flock.
Of course, it does not end with David, for he was a forerunner and predecessor to Jesus the Messiah. Jesus spoke these words in John 10:11,
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.”
Is it possible that Jesus was thinking about David risking his life to protect his father’s sheep from the bear and lion? The difference is that David risked his life to protect his sheep, but Jesus gave His life for His sheep.
Isaiah 11:1 says, “There shall come forth a shoot from the stump of Jesse, and a branch from his roots shall bear fruit.”
Again, Isaiah 11:10 – “the root of Jesse will stand as a banner for the peoples. The nations will seek for Him.”
In Revelation 5 He is referred to as “The Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David…”
And finally, the words of Jesus Himself. Revelation 22:16 – “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to testify to you about these things for the churches. I am the root and the descendant of David, the bright morning star.”
Psalm 78 is actually the gospel because it ultimately points us to Jesus, our Savior and The Messiah. The lesson of this psalm is in spite of the failings of the human race, the Father has graciously provided for us a Shepherd.