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Jamieson, Fausset & Brown :: Commentary on Psalm 78

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The Book of Psalms

Commentary by A. R. FAUSSET


Psa 78:1-72. This Psalm appears to have been occasioned by the removal of the sanctuary from Shiloh in the tribe of Ephraim to Zion in the tribe of Judah, and the coincident transfer of pre-eminence in Israel from the former to the latter tribe, as clearly evinced by David's settlement as the head of the Church and nation. Though this was the execution of God's purpose, the writer here shows that it also proceeded from the divine judgment on Ephraim, under whose leadership the people had manifested the same sinful and rebellious character which had distinguished their ancestors in Egypt.

      1. my people. . . my law--the language of a religious teacher ( Psa 78:2 Lam 3:14 Rom 2:16, 27; compare Psa 49:4 ). The history which follows was a "dark saying," or riddle, if left unexplained, and its right apprehension required wisdom and attention.

      3-8. This history had been handed down ( Exd 12:14 Deu 6:20 ) for God's honor, and that the principles of His law might be known and observed by posterity. This important sentiment is reiterated in ( Psa 78:7, 8 ) negative form.

      5. testimony-- ( Psa 19:7 ).

      8. stubborn and rebellious-- ( Deu 21:18-21 ).
      set not their heart--on God's service ( 2Ch 12:14 ).

      9-11. The privileges of the first-born which belonged to Joseph ( 1Ch 5:1, 2 ) were assigned to Ephraim by Jacob ( Gen 48:1 ). The supremacy of the tribe thus intimated was recognized by its position (in the marching of the nation to Canaan) next to the ark ( Num 2:18-24 ), by the selection of the first permanent locality for the ark within its borders at Shiloh, and by the extensive and fertile province given for its possession. Traces of this prominence remained after the schism under Rehoboam, in the use, by later writers, of Ephraim for Israel (compare Hsa 5:3-14 11:3-12 ). Though a strong, well-armed tribe, and, from an early period, emulous and haughty (compare Jos 17:14 Jdg 8:1-3 2Sa 19:41 ), it appears, in this place, that it had rather led the rest in cowardice than courage; and had incurred God's displeasure, because, diffident of His promise, though often heretofore fulfilled, it had failed as a leader to carry out the terms of the covenant, by not driving out the heathen ( Exd 23:24 Deu 31:16 2Ki 17:15 ).

      12-14. A record of God's dealings and the sins of the people is now made. The writer gives the history from the exode to the retreat from Kadesh; then contrasts their sins with their reasons for confidence, shown by a detail of God's dealings in Egypt, and presents a summary of the subsequent history to David's time.
      Zoan--for Egypt, as its ancient capital ( Num 13:22 Isa 19:11 ).

      15, 16. There were two similar miracles ( Exd 17:6 Num 20:11 ).
      great depths--and--rivers--denote abundance.

      17-20. yet more--literally, "added to sin," instead of being led to repentance ( Rom 2:4 ).
      provoking--and--tempted--illustrated by their absurd doubts,

      18. in their heart-- ( Mat 15:19 ).
      for their lust--literally, "soul," or, "desire."

      19, 20. in the face of His admitted power.

      21. fire--the effect of the "anger" ( Num 11:1 ).

      22. (Compare Hbr 8:8, 9 ).

      23-29. (Compare Exd 16:11-15 Num 11:4-9 ).

      25. angels' food--literally, "bread of the mighty" (compare Psa 105:40 ); so called, as it came from heaven.
      meat--literally, "victuals," as for a journey.

      29. their. . . desire--what they longed for.

      30, 31. not estranged. . . lust--or, "desire"--that is, were indulging it.

      31. slew. . . fattest--or, "among the fattest"; some of them--
      chosen--the young and strong ( Isa 40:31 ), and so none could resist.

      33-39. Though there were partial reformations after chastisement, and God, in pity, withdrew His hand for a time, yet their general conduct was rebellious, and He was thus provoked to waste and destroy them, by long and fruitless wandering in the desert.

      36. lied. . . tongues--a feigned obedience ( Psa 18:44 ).

      37. heart. . . not right--or, "firm" (compare Psa 78:8 Psa 51:10 ).

      39. a wind. . . again--literally, "a breath," thin air (compare Psa 103:16 Jam 4:14 ).

      40, 41. There were ten temptations ( Num 14:22 ).

      41. limited--as in Psa 78:19, 20. Though some prefer "grieved" or "provoked." The retreat from Kadesh ( Deu 1:19-23 ) is meant, whether--
      turned--be for turning back, or to denote repetition of offense.

      43. wrought--set or held forth.

      45. The dog-fly or the mosquito.

      46. caterpillar--the Hebrew name, from its voracity, and that of--
      locust--from its multitude.

      47, 48. The additional effects of the storm here mentioned (compare Exd 9:23-34 ) are consistent with Moses' account.

      48. gave. . . cattle--literally, "shut up" (compare Psa 31:8 ).

      49. evil angels--or, "angels of evil"--many were perhaps employed, and other evils inflicted.

      50, 51. made a way--removed obstacles, gave it full scope.

      51. chief of their strength--literally, "first-fruits," or, "first-born" ( Gen 49:3 Deu 21:17 ).
      Ham--one of whose sons gave name (Mizraim, Hebrew) to Egypt.

      52-54. made his. . . forth--or, brought them by periodical journeys (compare Exd 15:1 ).

      54. border of his sanctuary--or, "holy border"--
      this mountain--(Zion) was, as the seat of civil and religious government, the representative, used for the whole land, as afterwards for the Church ( Isa 25:6, 7 ).
      purchased--or, "procured by His right hand" or power ( Psa 60:5 ).

      55. by line--or, the portion thus measured.
      divided them--that is, the heathen, put for their possessions, so tents--that is, of the heathen (compare Deu 6:11 ).

      56, 57. a deceitful bow--which turns back, and so fails to project the arrow ( 2Sa 1:22 Hsa 7:16 ). They relapsed.

      58. Idolatry resulted from sparing the heathen (compare Psa 78:9-11 ).

      59, 60. heard--perceived ( Gen 11:7 ).
      abhorred--but not utterly.

      60. tent. . . placed--literally, "caused to dwell," set up ( Jos 18:1 ).

      61. his strength--the ark, as symbolical of it ( Psa 96:6 ).

      62. gave--or, "shut up."
      his people-- ( Psa 78:48 1Sa 4:10-17 ).

      63. fire--either figure of the slaughter ( 1Sa 4:10 ), or a literal burning by the heathen.
      given to marriage--literally, "praised"--that is, as brides.

      64. (Compare 1Sa 4:17 ); and there were, doubtless, others.
      made no lamentation--either because stupefied by grief, or hindered by the enemy.

      65. (Compare Psa 22:16 Isa 42:13 ).

      66. And he smote. . . part--or, "struck His enemies' back." The Philistines never regained their position after their defeats by David.

      67, 68. tabernacle of Joseph--or, "home," or, "tribe," to which--
      tribe of Ephraim--is parallel (compare Rev 7:8 ). Its pre-eminence was, like Saul's, only permitted. Judah had been the choice ( Gen 49:10 ).

      69. Exalted as--
      high palaces--or, "mountains," and abiding as--the earth.

      70-72. God's sovereignty was illustrated in this choice. The contrast is striking--humility and exaltation--and the correspondence is beautiful.

      71. following. . . ewes, &c.--literally, "ewes giving suck" (compare Isa 40:11 ). On the pastoral terms, compare Psa 79:13.


The Blue Letter Bible ministry and the BLB Institute hold to the historical, conservative Christian faith, which includes a firm belief in the inerrancy of Scripture. Since the text and audio content provided by BLB represent a range of evangelical traditions, all of the ideas and principles conveyed in the resource materials are not necessarily affirmed, in total, by this ministry.


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